In case it slipped your minds just how wild of a ride a single 48-minute game can be watching a young, talented squad, the Pelicans jogged memories across New Orleans of their vast potential in their opening contest of the 2020-21 season — but only after getting off to the most inauspicious of starts.
The Pelicans dramatic 113-99 victory over the Toronto Raptors ended in sweet fashion; however, that result was downright unimaginable in the third quarter.
Three minutes into the second half, the Pelicans trailed 67-56. Every time they had cut into their deficit in the first half, the Raptors answered. To be fair though, New Orleans was beating themselves nearly as much as Toronto was on the official scorer’s sheet. Through 27 minutes of action, the Pelicans had accumulated 16 turnovers, missed 9 of 14 free throws and allowed their opponent far too many wide open three-point looks.
But following an angry Stan Van Gundy timeout, the team’s defense tightened up significantly and then Brandon Ingram went to work, receiving worlds of support from his teammates. Once the dust settled, New Orleans sat on the positive side of a lopsided 38-22 third quarter, thanks in large part to knocking down seven of eight three-pointers in the frame while Toronto missed all ten of their long-range attempts.
The Pelicans continued to stymie a very good playoff-caliber opponent throughout the fourth quarter, not allowing Toronto to claw their way out of a double-digit hole inside the game’s final 5:47.
“I would say we fought very hard in a game that was very, very frustrating,” Van Gundy said to postgame media. “We were turning the ball over. We were in foul trouble. Not a lot was going right for us, but we hung in there and kept fighting. And then we made enough plays and shots to pull away. I was happy with our resilience in the game.”
A dominant 57-32 run to close-out a victory by a winning team that posted 27 turnovers. You won’t see that very often in an NBA game, but incredibly, the new head coach of the Pelicans has previous success on his resume in mistake-riddled games.
Stan Van Gundy is now 3-0 when his team commits at least 27 turnovers, according to @ESPNStatsInfo research.— Andrew Lopez (@_Andrew_Lopez) December 24, 2020
- Heat, 11/11/2005 vs Bobcats, 27 TO, won by 9
- Magic, 4/13/2011 vs Pacers, 28 TO, won by 18
The Pelicans were fortunate their seven-point halftime deficit wasn’t larger. Lonzo Ball was saddled with foul trouble for most of the first half and Zion Williamson was largely invisible due to Toronto sending multiple defenders to keep him at bay. However, solid contributions from the new guys — Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe — kept New Orleans within striking distance, setting the stage for Ingram.
BI legitimately looked like All-NBA material after halftime. He nearly finished with his first career triple-double (24 points, 11 assists, nine rebounds), finding a wonderful comfort zone. His playmaking and scoring throughout the second half was the game’s biggest story.
What a finish for Brandon Ingram and the Pelicans! pic.twitter.com/Z8XaB4Wf9e— The Bird Calls (@TheBirdCallsNO) December 24, 2020
A perfect finish for the Pelicans capped with a four-point play on Brandon Ingram's 11th assist to JJ Redick, a career-high. pic.twitter.com/yWIuBmMtk8— The Bird Calls (@TheBirdCallsNO) December 24, 2020
Although many of his teammates had greater impacts, Zion Williamson finished with a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) and had one impressive block against OG Anunoby, reminding us briefly of that defensive beast last seen at Duke.
Zion coming for OG's soul on this filthy rejection. pic.twitter.com/kTQZBnk4zr— The Bird Calls (@TheBirdCallsNO) December 24, 2020
Bledsoe (18 points, six assists, four threes) and Ball (16 points, five rebounds, four threes) were indispensable to the cause, as was JJ Redick’s 23 points and six triples off the bench. The defense and hustle exhibited by Adams (eight points, eight rebounds, three steals) and Josh Hart (six points, five rebounds, two steals) cannot be overlooked, too.
Pascal Siakam led Toronto with 20 points — a far cry from his 39-point average against the Pelicans a season ago — and Kyle Lowry added 18 points and 10 assists.
In addition to the high amount of turnovers and missed free throws, it was disconcerting that the Pelicans didn’t receive any positive contributions outside of their top 7 players. Nicolo Melli failed to score in 14 minutes and Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker made the shortest of cameos. Just how often will Van Gundy be able to exclusively rely on less than half his roster in a condensed NBA season? We have to save that question for another day, though.
The Pelicans, not playing their best ball for much of their game, mounted a nice comeback against a quality opponent. The players who needed to step up in key moments did precisely just that. And considering the franchise’s near hopeless 1-4 opening day record the previous five years, fans should greedily accept tonight’s victory.
The Stan Van Gundy era is off the ground, but please be sure to keep things in perspective. The perfect 1-0 record has a daunting challenge immediately ahead. The Pelicans next take the court against the current Eastern Conference Champs at their place on Christmas Day. You can be certain that the Miami Heat, who fell 113-107 to the Orlando Magic Wednesday, will show plenty of motivation to avoid an 0-2 start on national television.
For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.