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Pelicans dominant early, hold on late to beat Holiday’s Bucks 131-126 behind salivating performances from entire cast

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New Orleans, sans JJ Redick (DNP-CD), made a season-high 21 triples

Milwaukee Bucks v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

The New Orleans professional basketball club’s all-time favorite son Jrue Holiday came back to the Crescent City for a game with the Milwaukee Bucks, but the story quickly became how big the Pels could balloon their lead thanks to some hot shooting from 3 and drop-dead terrible nights from multiple Bucks in the first half.

That is, of course, before a nearly devastating collapse.

In the end, the Pelicans (7-10) held on for their best victory of the season, 131-126.

“I don’t know that it says anything,” Stan Van Gundy said in response to tonight’s victory affecting team morale. “I do think the first 30 minutes of the game show the possibilities at least of what we can be. Granted, we were making a lot of shots, but for 30 minutes we even guarded pretty well. Then, we didn’t really guard at all in the last 18 minutes. But for 30 minutes, I think it showed the possibilities of what we can be.”

The Bucks (11-7) cut a 29-point second half deficit into a lot of nervous minutes down the stretch, but the Pelicans hung on thanks to just enough: an incredibly hot shooting night — especially early from 3 — and relentless activity from Steven Adams on the boards. He had 12 boards in the second half, often coming against Giannis, a talented and driven rebounder, and human giant Brook Lopez.

Basically, New Orleans made a TON of shots early, totaling eight made 3s in the first quarter, finishing 12-of-20 in the first half alone. They’d end the night with 21 makes, a season-high that tied the franchise’s record. Brandon Ingram (#NBAAllStar) finished with 28 points (11-13 FT), zero rebounds(!), and four assists. Lonzo and Bledsoe finished with 27 and 25 points, respectively, for ‘Zo a season-high. Zion finished with 21, nine rebounds, and career-high seven assists.

Bledsoe vs. The Return of Jrue

Jrue Holiday had 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists, but he couldn’t help the Bucks enough early as they were being taken to task for a majority of the night. Eventually, Giannis (38 points, 11 rebounds) and Middleton (12 in 2nd half, eight rebounds, eight assists) hit back, but it was too late. Here’s hoping Jrue can play well and be healthy for an ECF run.

Eric Bledsoe revenge game? Eric Bledsoe revenge game.

The All-Defense First Team guard has come under fire from Pelicans fans for poor play and the appearance of disinterest. I’ve seen plenty of fight from Bled in his 10 prior years in the NBA, but here was a stage for him. He made four threes in the 1st quarter and finished with a career-high tying seven made 3s. Lonzo Ball joined in and also tied his career-high of seven makes.

(Just a note: Bledsoe did go 2-of-7 on 2s, including the first bucket of the game on a difficult floater.)

I dunno, do you trust a couple of career-tying highs to become a regular sighting? But hey, the fun tonight was immeasurable.

Zion vs. Giannis

The big showdown was great, but in different ways. If Zion had a dunk, I don’t remember it and wasn’t true “highlight” material; Giannis also lacked for Top 10 moments, particularly early, although he turned it on late with endless drives and spins. However, both did demonstrate how effective isolation basketball can be when said player can produce his own shot, free throws, or assists. Check the highlights for Zion’s vision and willingness, but here’s a simple pass that wound up Zo’s seventh three.

Zion finished with tremendous numbers, including just two turnovers despite more ballhanding attempts and the best +/- on the team in 34 minutes. 7-of-10 from the free throw line ain’t bad, either. Just whisper about his ever-growing skills...

Giannis came out a little disengaged offensively, but after a certain point in the 2nd quarter, I figure he looked up, saw how much time was remaining, and thought, “well, ya know, we could cut this to five.” And they did. Giannis was the best player on the floor late; not sure he seems like a late-night Bourbon Street guy, so unsure about his first half.

3s, please

One month ago tonight, the Bucks made a franchise-record shattering 29 threes against the defending Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat. Their previous high of 22 was matched just days later — this team can devastate with shooting. They finished 3rd last year in 3-pointers made, and 2nd the year before, in Budenholzer’s first, and Giannis’ first MVP season. This is what they do.

Entering tonight, they were 6th in attempts per game and 4th in accuracy, unsurprising given the facts above. Bucks’ All-Star Khris Middleton boosts the team’s stats in this regard, having easiliy taken the most 3s on the team while shooting a blistering 44 percent. Others like Donte Divincenzo, Bryn Forbes, Pat Connaughton, and Bobby Portis all shoot over 40 percent, in addition to higher volume guys like Brook Lopez and Jrue Holiday clocking in around 35 percent.

But tonight was all about the New Orleans’ makes. 21 was a season-high, and that came without the aid of JJ Redick... wait whaaaa? Just keep it together, Pelicans’ Twitter.

Bledsoe and Ball? Or Curry and Thompson?

Geaux Pels!

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 @TraBeTa.