The New Orleans Pelicans entered Monday night’s game versus the Minnesota Timberwolves seeking their second win in three games. The Pelicans were again a bit short-handed not counting Zion Williamson’s injury, with Devonte’ Graham missing his third straight contest due to a sore left foot.
Odds are, the inclusion of the starting point guard probably wouldn’t have had the desired effect of completely reversing a disastrous performance which contained multiple self-inflicted wounds.
The Timberwolves seized control of the game rather easily in the second quarter and never looked back, beating the Pelicans by a comfortable 110-96 margin.
“We didn’t come with a mentality to compete tonight and that’s on me,” Willie Green said in postgame. “I have to get our team ready to play. We were not ready to play.”
The Pelicans started the game aggressively on offense, shooting 47.8% in the opening quarter. After trailing by as many as nine points, New Orleans fought back to grab a 29-28 lead at the end of the first frame. The scoring was remarkably balanced, with eight different players getting into the boxscore. Backup point guard Kira Lewis Jr. led the way with 7 points.
Predictably, Minnesota was led by All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns, whose 10 first-quarter points paved the way to a 28-point, 10-rebound, 2-assist stat line on the night. More importantly, Towns drew two fouls on center Jonas Valanciunas, prompting Green to substitute in Willy Hernangomez — not Jaxson Hayes, who received a DNP — earlier than expected.
Unfortunately, New Orleans failed to hang onto the lead and then some, with the Timberwolves winning the second quarter 38-21. The Pelicans committed seven turnovers in the frame alone, and combined with a bevy of bad shot selections that were as good as turnovers, led to a number of easy scoring opportunities for the Timberwolves.
Sure, Minnesota shot 53.8% in the second quarter and nailed 5 of their 11 three-point attempts, but New Orleans’ sloppiness was their ultimate undoing.
Through the first 24 minutes, the Pelicans committed 12 turnovers and watched the Timberwolves grab 10 offensive rebounds. Minny turned that fruit into 12 second chance points and 21 points off turnovers!
For the game, the Timberwolves won the points off turnover battle 28-12 and finished with a 24-19 advantage in second chance points.
“21 offensive rebounds, 23 turnovers for us, that says it all,” Green said. “You can’t beat teams in this league giving them that many possessions. They had 100 possessions.”
Now, it wouldn’t a true disappointing Pels’ game if there wasn’t an injury to add to the insult. During intermission, the team announced that Valanciunas was questionable to return after suffering a left knee contusion. However, the big man was out there to begin the third quarter.
Satoransky kicked a towel like he was going for an extra point on his way to the bench. That kinda night, that kinda season for the Pels.— Christian Clark (@cclark_13) November 23, 2021
That happy news was completely short-lived, though, with Valanciunas picking up his fourth foul just over a minute in. Soon thereafter, New Orleans trailed by as much as 26 points. The Pels did manage to cut the deficit to 20 points before the start of the fourth. But New Orleans went on to never get any closer than the final margin.
The Pelicans were surprisingly led in scoring and rebounding by third-string center Willie Hernangomez. In just his fourth appearance of the season, he notched 19 points and 11 rebounds in a mere 22 minutes.
As to the mindset of the locker room, Hernangomez mentioned that players are upset.
“People are mad. We’re not trying to lose like that, obviously. We try to play hard and compete, but I think it’s time to learn and to grow. I think we have a great team to compete and try to have more wins. We know, third quarters for us have been bad, but I think we’ve learned already. It’s almost twenty games into the season. I think it’s a bad day for us, honestly. We have to be ready for the next day, starting from the beginning, and compete. We have to play harder than the other team and want it more, and I think the Timberwolves did that. They wanted it more and they have it.”
Nickeil Alexander-Walker added 14 points, five rebounds and three assists, Kira Lewis Jr. had 10 points and six assists, and Josh Hart and Jonas Valanciunas each finished with 13 points.
If you are wondering why Brandon Ingram has yet to be be mentioned, well, he didn’t do very much. Honestly, he was abysmal.
Although Ingram was the focus of the Timberwolves’ defense often, one expects more than nine points on 2 of 13 shooting, and it was concerning to watch his aggressiveness wane as the game progressed. After shooting four free throws in the first half, Ingram failed to get to the line in the second. He only had six shot attempts over the final two quarters. He finished the game with six turnovers.
“All of it was frustrating,” Green said. “They’re frustrated. I’m frustrated with that performance. We’ll come back in tomorrow and we’ve got to get to work.”
Tomorrow is assuredly another opportunity to get better. But with how the Pelicans have looked in their latest two losses, it’s no guarantee they will.