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New Orleans Pelicans ride Jahlil Okafor early, Lonzo Ball and Nicolo Melli late, to hold on for 117-110 victory over Detroit Pistons in overtime

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The 4th quarter made for difficult viewing, but the Pelicans did plenty outside of that period to win for the 9th time in their last 13 games.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t pretty, one felt powerful pangs of anxiety and onlookers were certain they would choke another potential victory away, but the New Orleans Pelicans came up huge when it mattered most, dominating the action in overtime to close out the Detroit Pistons with an important 117-110 win.

With 6:37 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Pelicans were comfortably ahead 97-86, but the offense stalled, scoring just 13 points in the entire frame and only five points during the final stretch. The Pistons, meanwhile, roared back behind 11 points from Derrick Rose and Christian Wood; however, on the game’s final shot of regulation, Rose had a chance to beat New Orleans for a second time on the season in similar fashion, but his running one-handed floater missed as Frank Jackson did just enough to force a mildly difficult shot attempt. New Orleans proceeded to score on their first two possessions in overtime to never look back.

Lonzo Ball, who finished one assist shy of a second straight triple-double (17 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists, three steals), connected on two key jumpers to give the Pelicans a five-point lead midway through the extra action. Following a Jaxson Hayes putback, Nicolo Melli then put a bow on the contest, coming up with a big steal, bailing out a Pels dying possession with long turnaround two as the shot clock expired, and hitting two free throws.

Head coach Alvin Gentry was as responsible for the win as much as any player. His decision to start Melli at the start of OT and then insert Hayes in the middle of the extra frame proved crucial, as was having Jackson primarily cover Rose during winning time. When Jackson wasn’t forcing Rose to miss, he did a good job of denying the former MVP opportunities to catch the ball and thus force Detroit to look for their offense elsewhere.

Melli finished a new career-high of 20 points, but one had to be impressed with his entire repertoire. This was the guy general manager Trajan Langdon must have thought he was signing back over the summer. Melli was calm under pressure, made all the right reads and plays, and did a great job of spacing the floor for Jahlil Okafor, the player of the game.

New Orleans, who entered the game missing nearly half their roster due to injury (Jrue Holiday, JJ Redick, Derrick Favors, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Kenrich Williams and Darius Miller), rode Jahlil Okafor in fun fashion for much of the contest. Oh, and he absolutely dominated his matchup against Andre Drummond.

Okafor finished with a line of 25 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and three blocks. He played inspired throughout, often exhibiting great second and third effort in the paint. Okafor was the main reason why New Orleans whipped Detroit on the glass to an enormous 61-43 advantage. Honestly, he was so effective that Pistons head coach Dwane Casey limited Drummond to 22 minutes — none in the 4th quarter and overtime frames.

Although the Pelicans were down seven contributors, the Pistons were shorthanded as well, missing five players including Blake Griffin. This was a winnable game that New Orleans couldn’t let get away, especially after the sensational and energetic play witnessed through the first three quarters.

The Pelicans conclude this road trip with two wins in three game, but more importantly, they just wrapped up one of the most difficult stretches of the season. Starting a week before Christmas, New Orleans has been on the road for nine of their last 13 contests, yet they have emerged out of the gauntlet with a sparkling 9-4 record.

Up next, the Pelicans have two days off — and two scheduled practices. Sentiment is quickly growing that Zion Williamson will participate in at least one more 5-on-5 session, and if things go accordingly, it should pave the way for his NBA debut against the Utah Jazz at home this coming Thursday.

Are you excited yet?

Geaux Pels!