The hometown favorite New Orleans Saints will soon begin their playoff quest for the 2020 Super Bowl trophy, but all the talk on social media hours less than 12 hours before kickoff revolved around their next door neighbor. The New Orleans Pelicans, a team that is suddenly relevant in the Western Conference playoff picture, managed to eke out a thrilling 117-115 win over the Sacramento Kings.
The game shouldn’t have entered clutch time, let alone required the Pelicans to score another point with 4.2 seconds left in regulation...but it did.
With two minutes to go, New Orleans was ahead by nine following Lonzo Ball’s fourth three-pointer of the night. However, some shaky play and a bad technical foul picked up by Josh Hart put the Pelicans in jeopardy of watching the contest go into overtime because of this shot by Nemanja Bjelica.
But in watching the above clip to its conclusion, JJ Redick was up to the task of playing the hero! Redick, who is not known for his exploits around the rim, drove hard into the lane and made a left-handed lay-in high off the glass to save the Pelicans from potential disaster.
“We won the game,” said head coach Alvin Gentry to postgame media. “That’s the only thing that matters to me. Obviously, there’s some things that we have to execute better. Bjelica made a great shot. It was a perfect storm for them. We were backing up off the guy, bumped him and it was a foul. He made the shot, stepped to the line and made the free throw. JJ made a great shot at the end.”
“Well, it was to either go to JJ or Jrue,” continued Gentry. “Jrue was coming off a screen and JJ was coming off another screen. I knew that Fave would get him open. I thought he was going to shoot the shot from the top. He said they ran at him so hard that he saw an open lane, drove it in there and shot a floater. We don’t know if we’re quite there yet with JJ’s floater, but he did a great job of getting it high off the board and it went in.”
Redick had a much more fun response in his interview with Jennifer Hale of Fox Sports New Orleans only minutes after the dramatic finish: “I gotta give credit to Jamelle McMillan. I come in the morning and we work on my bag. And I had to get in my bag right there.”
The Pelicans assistant coach a short while later responded with this on Twitter:
You coach for times like this. A true professional made a great play to help our basketball team get the W tonight. He works on his craft and the work carried over. Although he forgot the right to left cross part in the bag, it worked out lol. Appreciate all the love and support!— Jamelle McMillan (@JamelleMac) January 5, 2020
Having won six of their last eight, this team is having fun, but more importantly, they’re jelling. If you may recall, it wasn’t that long ago that they were failing to close out games, trying to figure out how to scratch out just a single victory. Now they sit just three games in back of the eighth seed in the Western Conference and Zion Williamson is expected to return to the basketball court very soon.
“I think any win is great for us,” stated Redick to postgame media. “You look at the standings after that game and we’re three back of the 8th seed. So we’re fighting for our lives. Hopefully with Zion coming back and the way we’ve played over the last couple of weeks, I think we’re trending in the right direction.”
To borrow a phrase from a retired L.A. sports announcer, oh me oh my.
The first half tonight witnessed three significant runs. The Pelicans raced out to a 22-8 lead, the Kings went on a dizzying 31-8 run, but New Orleans rallied back with a 22-9 run to take a 52-48 lead into halftime. This roller coaster probably should have been our first inclination that we were in store for a wild finish!
Either way, as Gentry reiterated several times, the only thing that matters is Pelicans won the game. The Kings’ Harrison Barnes, who seemingly couldn’t be stopped, led all scorers with 30 points; however, all five starters for New Orleans finished the contest in double figures. And next to Redick’s game-winning hoop, Lonzo Ball deserves a standing ovation for the way he performed.
The Pelicans starting point guard, who got off to a rough shooting start, was sensational overall though as he finished his night with 24 points, 10 assists, six rebounds and four threes. That marks three straight contests in which he’s surpassed the 20-point plateau, a new career-high.
“I think we’re playing well, and to me, the guy that has really kind of stepped up for us and has done a great job has been Lonzo,” said Gentry. “I think he made like two or three really big shots for us when were struggling a little bit. Came up with a couple of big rebounds. I think he’s playing well. He has our pace where we really want it. He’s pushing the basketball really hard and creating shots. And I think he’s been really solid defensively. So, he’s playing really good basketball for us.”
Ball’s improved three-point stroke was on display at times, but everyone should have been in awe of his instincts. He was always making the right play, whether it was pushing the ball hard in transition, attacking the rim or simply showing some patience like he did when he faked a three-point shot, stepped in after the defense went running by, gathered himself and splashed home a good-looking midrange jumper.
“Yeah, I mean I know how to play the game of basketball,” said Ball afterwards. “Like I said, for me it’s just making sure my body’s good.”
Another deserving of all the praise in the world, Derrick Favors once again dominated the interior with 13 points, 11 rebounds and one bone-crushing screen on Redick’s game-winner.
Seriously, Trevor Ariza might be contemplating retirement in the locker room this very second after the screen set by Derrick Favors! https://t.co/qMIRdYwem6— Oleh Kosel (@OlehKosel) January 5, 2020
Alvin Gentry correctly relayed to media, “But the difference in our team right now is Derrick Favors. Every night he’s +20, he’s +18, he’s +25. He’s getting us double figure rebounds every night.”
I know Jrue Holiday recently said that when E’Twaun Moore plays, the Pelicans win, but the same could certainly be said of Favors.
It’s almost as if having a healthy post presence is important or something. But that couldn’t be right. https://t.co/Fk4qqgFmhf— David M. Grubb (@DMGrubb) January 5, 2020
JJ Redick finished with 18 points, three assists (two were stellar), and three three-pointers, Jrue Holiday, 19 points (including two big clutch free throws!), seven assists, five rebounds, and Brandon Ingram, 16 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals. Off the bench, Josh Hart was the lead man with 16 points and five boards.
In addition to Barnes’ 30, Buddy Hield added 24 points, 12 rebounds (!) and four threes and De’Aaron Fox had 17 points and five assists for the losing Kings.
Up next, fingers crossed that we get to celebrate a Saints win over the Vikings to spite the Kings one more time and then go watch the Pelicans welcome the Utah Jazz on Monday back inside the comfy confines of the Smoothie King Center.