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Comeback bid falls short, Pelicans lose 120-112 to Nets

The firepower of Kevin Durant and James Harden proved too much down the stretch

Brooklyn Nets v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans almost pulled off the minor miracle of beating the Brooklyn Nets without Zion Williamson or Brandon Ingram on Friday evening.

With 4:36 left in regulation, the Pelicans led 104-101 — this after trailing by 21 points late in the third quarter. Unfortunately the comeback bid was thwarted during clutch time by, you guessed it, Kevin Durant and James Harden.

Durant (28 points, seven rebounds, eight assists) and Harden (39 points, five rebounds, 12 assists) combined for 12 points over the final minutes to push the Nets across the finish line with a 120-112 victory.

As it’s been the case for over the last few weeks, the Pelicans entered Friday’s contest shorthanded, going without their two biggest guns. The Nets probably figured they could pounce quickly and not give full effort. They were dead wrong.

After Nickeil Alexander-Walker was whistled for a charge on the game’s first possession, Joe Harris drilled home a 3-pointer on the other end for the Nets. Only 54 seconds from tip-off, NAW picked up his second foul. Things didn’t look good, but New Orleans didn’t even contemplate folding.

The Pelicans shot the ball well throughout the first half (53 FG%, 50 3PT%, 100 FT%), led by Garrett Temple (14 points) and Jonas Valanciunas (10 points), and they were making plays defensively.

  • Herbert Jones forcing Blake Griffin into a miss on the block.
  • Garrett Temple whacking the ball off James Harden’s leg to earn a steal.
  • A smart double-team of Kevin Durant producing a turnover.

The Pelicans also allowed just one offensive rebound, kept turnovers to a minimum (six), and held advantages in points-in-the-paint (24-16) and on the fast break (8-6).

The score was a 66-59 deficit at halftime though because the Nets shot the ball a better clip (57 FG%, 67 3PT%) than the Pels. Everything Joe Harris tossed up, went in (7-7 FGA, 6-6 3PA), and Kevin Durant registered only one miss (6-7 FGA).

For as competitive as the first half was, the start of the third quarter was not. On back to back possessions, Valanciunas was stripped underneath the rim and then committed an offensive foul. Durant went coast-to-coast for a dunk and James Harden drilled a 3-pointer.

A 5-1 start by Brooklyn to the second half, though, morphed into something exponentially worse. Harden caught fire and the Pelicans found themselves down 21 points with 3:05 left in the frame. Game, set, match? Nope. As it’s become a central theme on the season, no deficit is too large for the Pels to wave the white flag.

In addition to several usual suspects, Trey Murphy III was a central figure in helping the Pelicans climb out of the hole. Although he would go on to hit an important three — his trademark weapon — Murphy’s greatest body of work came on the glass, turning several offensive rebounds into points.

“Coach Corey Brewer challenged me after the Dallas game to just impact the game and show why you want to be on the court (and) how you can help the team,” Murphy said in postgame. “There are times where my jumper just isn’t falling, but I still have to help the team. I feel that offensive rebounding is something I can really do because I’m a great athlete, and I’m long as well. So once my jumper starts really clicking with all of the stuff I can do, (my) impact on the game is going to be really scary.”

The Pelicans were in the midst of a 32-8 run. After Devonte’ Graham hit a jumper and Valanciunas cleaned up a Hart miss, the score stood at 104-101. Why not believe?

But as mentioned, Durant and Harden did what they’ve been doing for years, displaying their All-NBA talent in making jumpers over Pelican defenders and getting to the free throw line when it counted most.

Six Pelicans scored in double figures, with Jonas Valanciunas’ 11th straight double-double (20 points, 12 rebounds) leading the way. Garrett Temple had 17, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, 16, and Devonte’ Graham, 14.

Off the bench, Trey Murphy III had eight points and six rebounds, and Jaxson Hayes scored nine points on 4 of 5 shooting. Herbert Jones had the most impact from among the reserves, though, with 11 points, four rebounds and two steals. One wonders what else he might have added if he had finished the game.

Jones was forced to take a seat on the bench after picking up his sixth foul with 6:10 left. The Pelicans had a one-point lead at the time and they certainly could have used his talents down the stretch against either Durant or Harden.

As Willie Green went on to say in postgame, there are no moral victories. The Pelicans want the real thing, to break the losing streak that’s now stretched to nine games, and finally notch a W in the win column.

But I’ll be honest, I didn’t think New Orleans had much of a prayer tonight. Certainly not with Ingram sitting for a seventh straight game. The Pelicans had a three-point lead over one of the championship favorites without Zion and BI. Another victory has to be coming soon — especially if BI is a go tomorrow.

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 @OlehKosel.