On a day like this, I, or any writer, would be remiss if a basketball article didn’t begin with a few words on the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant.
Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven other souls were lost in a tragic helicopter crash in Calabasas, CA Sunday morning. The story shocked the NBA world as many players learned the news only minutes or hours before taking the court. As the word spread, many in the league expressed their heartfelt shock and remorse for the basketball legend.
It is hard to put into words what the loss of Bryant means to the world, but as I began to gather my thoughts on how I will remember Bryant, basketball itself was really the furthest thing from my mind. What I really found inspiring about Kobe was his incredible drive to get the absolute best out of himself. I think we all wonder at some point what we could accomplish if we really maximized our potential. Kobe was the embodiment of a man obsessed with never cutting corners or selling himself short. Knowing that a cheated rep was ultimately only cheating himself.
Twentieth century psychologist Abraham Maslow introduced the concept of self actualization as a part of his “hierarchy of needs” theory of psychology in 1943. Maslow defined self actualization as “a desire to become everything one is capable of becoming”. In other words, the Mamba Mentality. After all the amazing accomplishments of Kobe “Bean” Bryant, I believe that is his lasting legacy. Kobe stood as an example of the greatness that could be achieved if one has an unwavering focus on becoming the best version of themselves. It was that mentality that garnered Bryant so much respect from teammates, opponents, and fans alike.
With very heavy hearts, the New Orleans Pelicans (18-29) and Boston Celtics (30-15) took the floor Sunday night. The Pelicans honored Kobe Bryant with an emotional tribute video prior to tip-off. On the first possession of the game both the Pelicans and Celtics intentionally took a 24 second violation to pay further tribute to Bryant, who wore the number 24 for much of his career.
Once it was time to play ernest basketball, the mood in the building and on the court was understandably somber. However, both teams showed incredible professionalism, quickly settling into the less important business of trying to win a basketball game. This was an important game for the Pelicans as they looked to snap a two-game losing skid and keep pace in the race for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference.
After a sluggish start the Pelicans began to increase their activity level midway through the first quarter. New Orleans rookie forward Zion Williamson continues to impact the game in multiple ways. Williamson was great on the offensive glass all night, nabbing four offensive rebounds in the first quarter alone. Williamson would finish the opening frame with five points and seven rebounds in 6:22 of action.
The Pelicans are increasing the length of Zion’s playing stints as the rookie played six minute stretches in every quarter and then had his time split during the final frame, including some closing minutes in the fourth quarter. Williamson would finish the game with 21 points and 11 rebounds (seven offensive rebounds).
Point guard Lonzo Ball was terrific all night — even though his shot stopped dropping — finishing with a career-high 15 assists.
Ball started the game shooting 2-4 from the field, including 2 of 3 from three-point range in the first quarter. His shot cooled off in the second quarter as the young guard went 0-3 from the field; however, Ball impacted the game in other ways. In addition to an increasing defensive intensity, Ball dished five assists in the second quarter and exercised patience of the offense, pushing the ball when there was space and setting up half court baskets when transition opportunities dried up.
Ball also provided great defense on Celtics point guard Kemba Walker. Walker struggled to get anything going in the first half and didn’t register a single basket until mid way through the second quarter. Walker would heat up though, scoring three consecutive baskets at one point and netting nine of the Celtics’ 22 second quarter points. It wasn’t enough, however, and New Orleans entered half time with a dominant 62-42 lead.
The only negative of the first half was the Pelicans continued trend of committing a high number of turnovers. New Orleans notched 9 turnovers in the first half. Fortunately for Pels’ fans, the Celtics often gave the ball right back, committing 10 first half turnovers.
The third quarter was by far the worst frame of the game for the Pelicans. It was the only quarter that New Orleans lost and was mostly caused by poor shot selection and inability to slow down Boston. The Pelicans shot only 42.9% in the third quarter, including 2 of 7 from three point range, and making matters worse, New Orleans lost containment of Walker. The Celtics point guard exploded for 16 points in the third quarter, leading a comeback which saw Boston cut the Pelicans lead to only 10 points before the start of the fourth. Boston shot a blazing 57.7% from the field in the third.
Entering the fourth quarter, it felt like we might be treated to another late game collapse, with the Celtics making a continued push to cut into New Orleans lead. Instead Pels fans were treated to solid closing performances by two of their young stars. Zion Williamson was allowed to play over eight minutes in the fourth quarter and was a part of the team’s closing lineup for the first time in his young career. The rookie phenom repaid the coaches for extending his minutes by scoring 10 of his 21 points in the final quarter. Williamson’s aggressiveness paid off as he was able to draw three foul shots in the fourth quarter, going 2 for 3 from the free throw line to close the game. It’s becoming obvious that Zion will be a free throw drawing machine in the NBA. His ability to consistently hit his free throws will be a major factor in his development.
On the other end of a lot of those Zion points was Pelicans point guard Lonzo Ball. In the fourth quarter Ball again showed he doesn’t have to score to positively effect a game. Ball didn’t score a single bucket in the fourth, going 0-1 from the field. Despite that, he was spectacular at times late in the game, netting eight fourth-quarter assists and creating open looks for teammates as the Pelicans hit several big shots to close out the 123-108 victory.
Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday quietly put together a good game leading the Pelicans in scoring with 25 points on 10 of 20 shooting. Jrue hit several difficult shots in the lane and could’ve had an even bigger night had the referees called fouls on several plays where he drew contact from defenders.
Overall it was a great win for the Pelicans on a very tough night. New Orleans will have to find a way to limit mistakes in coming games if they hope to make serious push for the playoffs. The Pels committed 18 turnovers tonight, and missed 10 of 29 free throws. They were able to overcome it tonight with great offensive rebounding, but they have to be more careful with the ball moving forward.
New Orleans’ next game will be on the road on Tuesday night at 5:30 PM CST against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Rocket Mortgage Field house.
RIP Kobe “Bean” Bryant #MambaOut