They managed to hold on.
The Pelicans defeated the Heat 110-104 despite blowing a 19-point lead and the game entering clutch minutes — an enormous thorn that’s been in New Orleans’ side all season. Before tonight, the Pelicans had compiled an 11-24 record and the worst net rating (-23.3) in the league during the final five minutes of games where the disparity was five points or less.
One of the heroes was Brandon Ingram, in spite of only finishing with 12 points, five rebounds and three assists. Oh, he’s most certainly a deserving All-Star on the season, but he was the iciest shooter before crunch minutes hit, knocking down but two shots on 17 attempts. Over the final five minutes though, he arguably connected on the two biggest makes of the night: a 21-footer to put the Pelicans up three with 2:49 remaining and then a 3-pointer to give New Orleans some breathing room with a 105-100 lead and 1:35 left.
“It was just a blessing,” Ingram said afterwards when reflecting on those two made jumpers. “I feel like I went zero-for-20 and knocked down those last two crucial shots, and my teammates found me on the wing and Zion set a good screen to get me to a good spot. This was a gift from my teammates and a gift from God.”
In all honestly though, the entire team deserves a shout-out for coming through in the clutch. The Pelicans combined to make four of five shot attempts and five of six free throw attempts. Really the only bugaboo were three turnovers by New Orleans which kept Miami within striking distance until the final ticks on the clock.
The Heat’s game plan was readily apparent at the outset as they went to a lot of zone and swarmed Zion Williamson whenever a pass headed his way in the paint. For this reason, the Pelicans began the game with two straight turnovers, both on lazy passes which the Heat defense hungrily ate up. Then New Orleans made a third mistake just a few minutes later. Fortunately for them, Miami was sloppier, kicking off with four errors.
Following an Alvin Gentry timeout, the Pelicans were the first team to get their act together though as New Orleans’ offense sprung to life. They scored 32 points over the final 10 minutes of the frame to grab an early 32-26 lead. The stellar play continued into the second, with New Orleans winning the quarter 33-25.
The Pelicans 65-51 first half lead was powered by near perfect efficiency from Zion Williamson and Derrick Favors, but New Orleans was carried by three guards in particular throughout the contest: Josh Hart (19 points, 12 rebounds), Jrue Holiday (20 points, six rebounds, six assists), and Lonzo Ball (16 points, nine rebounds, eight assists).
“I think we just look for opportunities,” Holiday said. “I think we saw that, especially last game and the game before, they’re going to collapse on him. He’s a beast under there. Really just to be in his vision so he can make those kick-outs, make those cuts to the basket to try to get to a space he can throw it to. I think we are starting to figure it out.”
Through three quarters, New Orleans held an 89-74 advantage. While the Pelicans offense was clicking, so too was their defense, holding the Heat to just four makes in 24 attempts from three-point range. Miami also didn’t do themselves any favors in knocking down 18 of 27 from the free throw line.
That lead was important because New Orleans absolutely sputtered to open the fourth quarter. They managed to score a mere four points through the first 5:37 of the final frame.
“Anytime you play Miami you are going to have to grind it out,” Gentry said. “They are not just going to lay down and die. They made a run at us and the big thing for us is we found a way to hang on and win the game. That was the most important thing I thought.”
Thankfully, the Pelicans discovered how to finish well, at least on this night.
For the Heat, Jimmy Butler finished with 28 points, eight rebounds and six assists, and Duncan Robinson scored 24 points, accounting for eight of Miami’s nine three-pointers. Bam Adebayo tallied just nine points but did add an impressive array of other stats: 12 rebounds, four assists, three steals and four blocks.
As a large sidenote, Zion’s 20+ point streak of 13 games came to a grinding halt as he finished with 17 points and six rebounds. Williamson was effective, but due to that swarming Heat defense, he wound up with only nine field goal attempts and four free throw attempts.
New Orleans jumps up considerably in the Western Conference standings with their hugely important win over Miami because Memphis, Portland and San Antonio all lost. The Pelicans trail the Grizzlies now by four games and could find themselves tied for tenth if the Trail Blazers knock off the Kings tomorrow. Memphis also plays tomorrow as the welcome the Atlanta Hawks.
Up next, the team leaves New Orleans on an eight-day road trip where they’ll face four conference foes, starting with the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.