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Pelicans melt down in the third quarter, fall again in Utah

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21-2 runs are hard to come back from it turns out.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Utah Jazz Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

A fun start, and another frustrating finish.

Give the New Orleans Pelicans this, they are consistent.

Once again, a strong start was wasted as the Pels allowed a massive run in the third quarter in which the Utah Jazz put the game out of reach and held the Pelicans off in the fourth quarter for a win by a 129-118 margin. Stan Van Gundy even racked up two technical fouls to earn only the second ejection of his NBA career.

To say the Pelicans started the first quarter fast would be a massive understatement. They scored nine fast break points and shot like a team possessed from behind the arc. Brandon Ingram led the way with 16 points in the first frame alone, including going 4-4 from three-point range as the team shot 8-11 from deep overall. Lonzo Ball got the party started with a corner three he shot with no hesitation. Even Zion Williamson chipped in with his first three on the season.

Those fast break points? They were thanks in large part to the seven turnovers the Pelicans forced. Yet, beyond the hot shooting behind the arc, the most promising point was the movement. An offense that has relied heavily on a lot of dribbling at the top of the key was swinging the ball from side to side with multiple actions on every possession. All that resulted in a boatload of assists, 14 on 15 makes. New Orleans took a 43-31 lead into the second quarter.

Unsurprisingly, the Utah Jazz did not fold. Their bench continued to chip away at the lead to begin the second quarter which featured another turnover by the Pelicans without even getting the ball inbounded after a Jazz make. There is not a more frustrating play I’ve seen from the Pelicans than their inability to get the ball inbounded and across half court. Three guys assume the ball will get brought up, and Pelican opponents pounce with a surprise press. We saw the same thing against Charlotte.

The fun motion offense of the first quarter? Gone. In the first six minutes, New Orleans reverted back to their old habits. A lot of dribbling. They had just THREE assists in second quarter after racking up 14 in the first. The threes? Those dried up too. The Pelicans went 0-4 behind the arc in the second quarter and the lead evaporated. Utah led 70-69 going into the locker room despite 20 points from Brandon Ingram and 14 from Zion Williamson.

Second half

Just like the start of the game, Lonzo Ball got the Pelicans started with another three to begin the third quarter. The inconsistent officiating continued, and Stan Van Gundy picked up his first technical foul early in the third after a number of ticky-tack calls went the Jazz way. It didn’t help. The avalanche continued and the Utah lead grew to 16 as the Jazz went on a massive 21-2 run on the back of Donovan Mitchell.

Stan Van Gundy was ejected later in the third after a questionable out of bounds call led to his second technical. The coach getting tossed appeared to light a fire under the Pelicans, who quickly cut the Jazz lead to single digits with an 8-0 to end the third. Some officiating the Pelicans’ way helped, and the score was 100-92 Utah going into the final frame.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker, JJ Redick, Josh Hart, Zion Williamson, and Jaxson Hayes took the floor to start the fourth. They held the game close for a handful of possessions before back-to-back horrendous defensive possessions — by the combination of Zion and Jaxson — turned into five easy points for Utah and the deficit grew to 15. While the Pelicans tried to keep it close, the margin was just too great.

It’s not a stretch to say the Pelicans lost this game in one five-minute stretch of the third quarter. From 8:55 in the third quarter to 4:27 the Pelicans saw a 78-75 lead melt into a 96-80 deficit. Each game the wheels come off for one short span and all the work of the other 40+ minutes is flushed down the drain. The Jazz scored on 9 of 10 possessions over that stretch, at an ORTG of 210.

210!!!

Let’s review my keys to the game.

Brandon Ingram catching in motion: We saw plenty of this in the first half. It was great! It was working! And then in the second half, Utah pushed the Pelicans’ offense further from the three-point line and New Orleans settled into the same old one-on-one offense we’ve seen.

Zion Williamson working at the top: We saw less of this tonight, but whenever the Pelicans gave Zion the freedom to work at top he got cooking. However, the team tends to settle into that style given too many chances. They have to keep at the offense that works.

Lonzo Ball make shots: He got a couple threes to drop, to start the first and third quarters. There wasn’t a whole lot else to be excited about. Even worse than the other threes he missed, were the multiple attempts he had that he passed up, only to settle for lower percentage step back twos as the shot clock ran down.

The Pelicans next travel to Minnesota for their final game of this two-week long road trip, hoping to salvage a 2-4 record with a win over the slumping Timberwolves who are 1-8 in 2021.

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 @Fish_TBW.