It was another tale of two halves for the New Orleans Pelicans on the season, but this one ended on a high note. The Pelicans mounted a nice second half charge to come from 10 points down at halftime to upend the pesky Golden State Warriors by a final score of 115-101.
The Pelicans got off to a decent start, leading 10-7 after tip-off, but the Warriors proceeded to do everything better, quicker and smarter than New Orleans for the rest of the first half. In addition, New Orleans couldn’t make anything as they resorted back to some bad iso-ball moments, devoid of the ball and player movement we’ve become accustomed to of late.
Brandon Ingram, Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, JJ Redick and E’Twaun Moore combined to make just seven of their 30 field goal attempts, and to add to the misery, Zion Williamson missed five of his six free throw attempts.
“We need to start much much better,” Alvin Gentry said. “We just didn’t start the game with energy. And we didn’t start the game defensively of being into the ball and it showed. We let Damion Lee get off to a great start.”
Lee, who scored 18 points on 7-9 shooting, led the Warriors in the first half. In fact, Golden State’s lead should have been larger had they not missed several easy bunnies right at the rim.
Credit the Pelicans for turning the game around in the second half though, but not before strong choice words were utilized by several in the locker room at halftime — including some from the young face of the franchise.
Jrue Holiday specifically mentioned Zion Williamson by name in his postgame interview with Jen Hale of Fox Sports New Orleans, saying that the group was “reamed out” at halftime.
Well, the impassioned talk seemed to have done the trick.
Jrue Holiday, who finished with 23 points and 15 assists, was magical in the second half. With Ingram struggling to get going (17 points but on 18 shots), Holiday put the team on his back and hit three shots at the start of the third quarter, propelling the Pelicans on a 13-4 run to close the deficit to just a single point before Steve Kerr was forced to call a timeout.
“Forget about the offensive part,” Gentry said. “He was really, really good offensively, but we need for Jrue to set the tone defensively. And that’s what he did in the second half, right from the start.”
New Orleans would go to take a six-point lead briefly, but the third quarter wound up in a tie at 77 points apiece.
However, any doubts about who was going to be the victor were extremely short-lived as the Pelicans stormed out of the gates in the fourth. Nicolo Melli, who finished with 20 points and nailed 6-7 from deep, canned a couple of threes and Holiday added one of his own in less than a minute and a half of action.
After that three-point barrage, New Orleans maintained a comfortable margin the rest of the way en route to their 19th victory in the last 29 games.
As for The Rook, all he did was finish with a line of 28 points, seven rebounds, two assists, and he recorded his first made three since his debut against the Spurs — poor Alen Smailagic.
“He’s not your typical 19-year-old,” Gentry said in reference to Zion’s halftime pep talk. “He’s a very mature kid. Very respectful of his teammates and they’re very respectful of him. He’s all about winning.”
Indeed he is.
Williamson was the only Pelican to fight tooth and nail in the paint offensively in the first half, and he inspired the guys vocally at intermission. This seemed to be directly responsible for the good movement which included a lot of drive and kicks to Melli, who might still be flying high after his late addition to the Rising Stars Challenge at the 2020 All-Star weekend.
One thing that Gentry noted afterwards, Melli passed up a couple of open attempts when he was 5-5 from three-point range, stating that “We’ve got to teach him the American Way.”
Hehe, he’s probably right. Melli shouldn’t be hesitating, not when he’s made 49.3% of his threes since the start of the new year.
Also, in the broader scope of things, the New Orleans Pelicans need to learn how to begin games with better focus. One could sense they started this contest playing down to the level of the competition and that lackadaisical play lasted for about 24 minutes.
That can’t happen. Not if New Orleans wants to leapfrog the Portland Trail Blazers (who narrowly edged out the Pistons tonight) and completely close a 3.5 games gap with the Memphis Grizzlies for the 8th and final spot in the Western Conference.
Up next, the Pelicans travel to Los Angeles to face the Lakers on Tuesday evening. L.A. barely edged the Celtics today, 114-112, but Anthony Davis and LeBron James are not a good matchup for the Pelicans. But hey, this will be the first time New Orleans has Zion.