The New Orleans Pelicans are who we thought they were and that’s a shell of the team witnessed prior to the Covid-19 shutdown.
In the biggest game to date, the Pelicans failed to begin the contest with — you guessed it — the requisite amount of energy and focus. New Orleans made a decent run in the second half, cutting a 17-point halftime deficit to just four at the start of the fourth quarter, but they couldn’t get over the hump, eventually falling 122-113 to the division-rival Spurs.
In all likelihood, this spells the end of the 2020 playoff dream. The Pelicans needed a victory this afternoon and wins in their final two games in order to give themselves any realistic chance of squeezing into the play-in tournament.
Lethargy, from both a physical and mental standpoint, has become all too commonplace in this Orlando restart and it’s been responsible for too many dismal losses. New Orleans drops to 2-4 in the bubble and 30-40 overall.
“For whatever reason, I don’t have an answer, but I don’t think we started the game with a great competitive spirit,” JJ Redick said to postgame media. “We’ve had a couple of games like that down here, for whatever reason. Our group eventually picked it back up and whittled that lead down to a one possession game. We just didn’t start the game right, for the whole first half; not just the starters, I’m just saying the whole first half.”
Big props to JJ for confirming what our eyes have seen in every painful misstep of this journey, and of course, for putting forth incredible effort. Redick finished the game with 31 points on 16 shot attempts, including eight three-pointers, five rebounds, three assists and two bone-jarring charges. He singlehandedly tried to will New Orleans to the unlikely comeback and keep his consecutive playoff streak alive, but it was to no avail because his teammates didn’t provide enough support.
Jrue Holiday suffered an off-night (seven points (2-12 FGs), five turnovers), but so too did his backcourt running mate. Lonzo Ball’s woes (five points (2-10 FGs), three turnovers) actually stick out greater as he’s yet to post even an average game by NBA starter standards inside the bubble. However, don’t take this to mean that he doesn’t care.
Lonzo has consistently been unable to display that good form witnessed in March, but on any given night, there’s been more than one major disappointment. Losses in meaningful games sting, yet it’s the way in which the Pelicans have not only failed individually but as a team that has really gotten under the skin of most onlookers.
- Why did New Orleans come out flat and find themselves down by a score of 14-3 less than three minutes in?
- Why did Brandon Ingram, the Pelicans best all-around weapon and number one option, receive only four shot attempts in 17 first-half minutes?
- How did the small-ball Spurs finish with a 27-15 edge in second chance points?
- How did a Coach Pop-led team wind up with eight more fastbreak points than an Alvin Gentry-led one?
- Why was the focus so awful in the first half that the team missed a countless number of bunnies at the rim?
- If the Pelicans truly believed that they were a playoff team and were going to find the postseason prior to the shutdown, why haven’t they shown that side in Orlando?
There are so many good questions, but no excusable answers. While the coaching staff hasn’t had the freedom to play Zion Williamson a full allotment of minutes, the Pelicans are a fully healthy team. Injuries are not disguising these outcomes. Most of their competition wishes they could enjoy similar good fortune.
Speaking of Williamson, he finished with 25 points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes — all bubble-highs, but his focus after the game was much like Redick's: the team’s lack of effort in the first half.
“It’s something that is not acceptable. The lack of spirt in the first half really dictates the second half. If we would have come out better, maybe we would have had a different outcome. Like I always say, you’ve just got to learn from that experience and just be better.”
DeMar DeRozan led the Spurs with 27 points and had little trouble getting to his spots, even including against the vaunted defense of Jrue Holiday. Rudy Gay scored 19 off the bench and Dejounte Murray dropped 18 points.
With the Western Conference play-in tournament still in the picture, the Pelicans shot themselves in the foot repeatedly in the first half.
“We just didn’t have any competitive spirit to start the game,” Redick said. “We were flat. We weren’t talking. That’s what it comes down to.”
The Pelicans may be a young team, but that’s wholly unacceptable. Especially when everyone’s approach was reportedly to treat this contest against the Spurs “as if it’s the seventh game.”
Stinkers come and go, but they shouldn’t be occurring at the rate witnessed in the Orlando restart. If there’s one thing that’s become painfully obvious during this eight-game stretch, it’s that these meaningful minutes are crying out for some meaningful future change.