If I told you before the start of tonight’s matchup that the Dallas Mavericks would go on to knock down 22 three-pointers, the Pelicans would get to the free throw line just 11 times and Luka Doncic would finish with a line of 30 points, 17 rebounds, 10 assists, four threes — all the while getting to the charity stripe 13 times himself, you probably would have guessed that the Pelicans wound up on the wrong end up a blowout.
Nope, they very nearly won one heck of a hard-fought battle.
Following a couple of jumpers by Brandon Ingram, New Orleans was ahead 109-106 with 1:52 remaining in regulation. Although that lead evaporated quickly, Nicolo Melli almost saved the day by sending the game into overtime with a corner three.
PASS THE BALL TO THE ITALIAN pic.twitter.com/WyvySfnqjd— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) March 5, 2020
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Doncic would go on to score seven points in overtime and lead the Mavericks to a 127-123 victory over the Pelicans, sweeping the season series 4-0 and dropping New Orleans five full games off the pace for the 8th spot in the Western Conference.
“It’s crazy, you look at his line and he had a great line, but I thought we did a good job on Luka,” Alvin Gentry said to postgame media. “Porzingis made some shots, but for the most part you’re playing against really really good offensive players, you’ve got to try and limit something and I thought we did. I thought the biggest play of the game was the missed layup and then they were able to tip it back.”
That play Gentry referenced came with 16.9 seconds left in the extra period. Following a Jrue Holiday dunk, New Orleans trailed by just two points and they forced Maxi Kleber to be the hero. His three-point attempt missed, but Luka was able to get a hand on the ball, tipping the offensive rebound back out into the waiting hands of another Maverick on the perimeter.
That’s how close the Pelicans came to potentially having a game-winning attempt — this despite the Mavericks deadly outside shooting, the lack of free throws awarded to New Orleans and Luka playing the part of the 2020 MVP.
Yeah, from a playoff perspective, the night’s result sucks, but I’m frankly not mad. Not in the slightest. Following a really lousy defensive effort by the team against the Timberwolves 24 hours ago, New Orleans bounced back extremely well. More importantly, their future core shined brightly again.
Lonzo Ball, who began the game with New Orleans first two scores from deep, finished with 25 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, seven threes and two steals. He missed a couple of pivotal shot attempts late, but the effort was undeniable. He was racing all over the court, defending, helping, grabbing boards and sinking bombs from all over. If you’re not paying attention, his motor is just as fun to watch right now as his three-point stroke. Piggybacking off what I wrote late last month, I truly think he is poised to be one of the game’s best all around point guards down the road. I mean, have you seen what he’s done thus far here in March?
It's only been three games, but two have come against Western Conference playoff contenders (Lakers, Mavericks) -- check out the March averages for Lonzo Ball!— Oleh Kosel (@OlehKosel) March 5, 2020
5.0 made threes
53.6 3PT% pic.twitter.com/k479K3mMZ7
Not to be outdone, Brandon Ingram killed it: 27 points, five rebounds, four assists and three threes. Down the stretch, rightly or wrongly, the team elected him to be the closer and he received the crucial touches in regulation. As mentioned, he nailed a couple of jumpers to put New Orleans ahead late, but he went on to miss the team’s next two attempts, too.
I’m not mad about that either.
Some may claim that stretch was an overabundance of hero ball, but I call it important development. In a perfect world, ball and player movement never ceases and ultimately the offense produces a clean open shot. That’s not reality. There’s a reason why teams that go on to hoist championship trophies have a guy or two that can be counted on to get a bucket in the clutch.
I want Brandon Ingram to try and be that guy. We should be fine with seeing him fail. At the end of the day, that growth has to be given every opportunity if championship aspirations are the priority. The only shame was that the referees decided to remove him from the game with his ticky-tack sixth foul in OT, this after allowing physical play throughout.
Amazingly, Zion Williamson comes third on tonight’s pecking order of discussion about individual Pelicans. The rookie finished with another worthy line of 21 points — his 13th straight 20+ point game, six rebounds and three assists, but the Mavericks did a pretty good job of containing him with Kleber and Porzingis. Dallas finished with 13 blocks, and a lot of them were good, but considering all of the contact Zion took, his five free throw attempts felt too meager.
New Orleans veterans in the starting lineup also made a solid impact. Jrue Holiday was great in a ton of key moments, as evidenced by his 19-point, six-rebound, six-asset effort, and the Pelicans enjoyed their greatest success when Derrick Favors, who posted a double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds, was on the court (+10 plus/minus).
Frank Jackson made a lot of good contributions off the bench in finishing with 12 points and three three-pointers; however, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there were a lot of spots in the game where New Orleans missed the presence of JJ Redick.
For as productive as the Pelicans’ Big 4 was again, they didn’t receive much help for the longest. New Orleans’ bench totaled 21 points but were clearly outplayed by Dallas’ reserves as their group tallied 38 points. Both Josh Hart and E’Twaun Moore have slumped of late, and despite Melli’s huge three to send the game to overtime, Nicolo finished with just those three points on 1-9 shooting.
“It came down to their great players making a couple of great plays.” — Alvin Gentry
We’ve already listed Luka’s line, but Kristaps Porzingis was just as formidable on the opponent’s side: 34 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, three triples and five blocks.
Porzingis clearly has his legs back as he’s much improved since the last time New Orleans faced Dallas. To be honest, it makes you wonder why the New York Knicks ever traded him in the first place — until you quickly realize that’s what bad organizations do.
Either way, the Mavericks have two bonafide stars and Rick Carlisle has perfectly geared the schemes and strategies to maximize this duo that is going to be a problem for the rest of the league for a very long time. In due time though, I think New Orleans might do one better. Lonzo, B.I. and Zion are knocking on that door, loudly.
Up next, the Pelicans will have a day off to recharge their batteries before welcoming the Heat on Friday inside the Smoothie King Center.