It was a sloppy and uneven performance at times, particularly at the end of regulation as the Pels gave away a 10-point lead with 2:22 remaining in the fourth quarter.
After a pair of made free throws by Brandon Ingram, who scored a game-high 31 points to go along with eight assists, put New Orleans up 106-96, the Pacers were able to draw within six on a Malcom Brogdon layup with just over 90 seconds to go.
The Pelicans went scoreless on three straight possessions. First Ingram was stopped at the rim by Myles Turner. Then Williamson missed a dunk attempt that would have made it a three-score game. Finally, after working the clock and the Indiana defense, JJ Redick came up empty on an open three-point attempt from the corner with :27 on the clock.
Victor Oladipo, who led the Pacers with 25 points, promptly nailed a three-pointer to cut the lead in half.
Oladipo then stole the inbounds pass from Lonzo Ball before it eventually found its way into the hands of Turner, who calmly buried a three from the top of the arc to tie the score.
Ingram had an opportunity to make the game-winner in regulation, but his shot didn’t come close to hitting the mark.
In the overtime, the Pelicans found themselves clawing back late. Trailing by four with just over a minute to go, Zion Williamson (24 points, 10 rebounds) and Lonzo Ball (18 points, six rebounds, six assists) scored consecutive buckets to tie the score at 116.
Then came this…
Brogdon’s floater wasn’t a thing of beauty, but it was soft enough to find its way to the bottom of the net and drop the Pelicans to 4-3.
Once the emotions of the team failing to call a timeout before Ball’s crucial turnover subside, the focus for many will be the Pelicans’ offensive inefficiency, or the burden on Ingram’s shoulders in late-game situations. You could even bring up the 18 turnovers.
But the New Orleans Pelicans did not lose this basketball game on the offensive end.
The Pelicans lost this game by failing to do the things that had gotten them four wins thus far: protecting the paint, and forcing contested shots in the mid-range and from distance.
“Well, they hit some threes, and that’s what happens when you haven’t been together a long time and don’t buy in,” Stan Van Gundy said in postgame. “They hit some threes, so some guys didn’t pull in and take drives away. The thing is, it doesn’t help you to not pull in on the threes anyway because now the guy is downhill. It’s either a layup, or you come and help and allow them to kick it out and get corner threes.
“Obviously, we were at about 36 points-per-game in the paint through the first five (games), with 48 (points) and 50 (points) in the last two games. That’s the problem, and we’ll go back and look and see how many of those 19 threes came from the ball being down in the heart of the defense. We have got to keep the ball out of the paint.”
Indiana’s potent offense had five players reach double figures in scoring, and shot better than 48 percent from the floor as a team. Only the Miami Heat had topped 44 percent against the New Orleans defense in its previous six games.
With 19 three-pointers made, the Pacers tied the Phoenix Suns for the most against the Pelicans in this young season. Those came in a loss on Dec. 29.
Defending the paint has suddenly become an issue for the Pelicans as well. New Orleans surrendered a season-high 50 points at the basket to the Pacers.
And that was with both Domantas Sabonis and Turner playing most of the game in foul trouble.
With the bench continuing to provide little in the way of points, the New Orleans reserves were outscored 33-22, the Pelicans’ starting unit had to earn some decisive victories against Indiana’s first string.
Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe combined for 30 points, 11 assists, and 17 rebounds, while the Pacers received 46 points, 17 assists, 12 boards, and five steals from Brogdon and Oladipo.
Sabonis and Turner combined for 36 points, seven assists, 13 rebounds, and five blocked shots, compared to the 34 points, two assists, 18 boards and one block from Williamson and Steven Adams.
The Indiana quartet shot a combined 32-for-62 (51.6 pct) and made 12 of the Pacers’ 19 from downtown.
Indiana was surgical at times with its cuts to the basket, and their ball movement was constant; either with the dribble or the pass.
As stated in the preview, this game was an early season measuring stick. New Orleans won’t face many teams with as much discipline and aggression the Pacers displayed on both ends.
It was another lesson learned for a team trying to understand what consistent, winning basketball looks like, and a staff still working out the bugs in the programming while it’s already in use.
The 2020-21 New Orleans Pelicans are still in beta testing right now. And as we have stated numerous times before, there are no moral victories. But, there are some encouraging signs.
Let’s just hope that the next version of the Pels we see, on Wednesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, has some upgrades applied.