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Starless Pelicans fight hard, falter down stretch to lose 112-100 to Suns

The final 14 minutes were a tough watch

New Orleans Pelicans v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Remaining positive about the local team in 2021-22 is now testing even the most ardent of fans. (Someone please go give Rel a hug.)

Yes, there’s no Zion Williamson. Brandon Ingram missed his second consecutive game. However, don’t mediocre teams even fall into a victory every once in awhile without their star(s)?

Not these New Orleans Pelicans, apparently — not yet anyways.

Once again, the Pels’ effort was largely strong throughout. They utilized a switching, blitzing defense to keep the Suns off-balanced, absolutely dominating the first quarter action. The Pelicans built a 20-point cushion at one point on the strength of 13 first-half steals. With 2:10 left in the third quarter, they still maintained a not insignificant lead of 80-66 over Phoenix.

Then the dam burst wide open.

Over a span of the next 3:16 on the game clock, the Suns went on a 17-2 run to seize a one-point advantage. The Pelicans continued to battle, but everyone watching back home in New Orleans knew the outcome ahead of time.

The offense was suffering through another one of their patented stretches of not being able to score. And the defense proved not as effective as in the first half. Sure enough, the Suns shook free from the grasp of a close game over the final two minutes to win going away 112-100.

Although New Orleans was crushed 36-18 during the final frame, the cracks were readily apparent in the third quarter, beginning with the loss of Herbert Jones. Not a minute out of halftime, the rookie’s face ran smack dab into Jonas Valanciunas’ left elbow, forcing him to the locker room. Later, he was ruled out for the rest of the game with concussion-like symptoms.

That hurt immensely because Jones was the inspirational lift on defense. He was a big reason why Devin Booker was unable to find his rhythm in the first half (3-11 shooting, five turnovers).

During that decisive fourth quarter, Chris Paul and Booker combined for 21 points on a perfect 9-9 from the field. Point God also handed out six assists in the frame. Meanwhile, the Pelicans couldn’t find any continuity. Valanciunas, who had 23 points and hit all three of his 3-ball attempts in the first three quarters, went scoreless over the final 12 minutes.

“I thought in the fourth quarter, they made more shots and we made some mistakes down the stretch and now we are playing against their half court defense which is hard for us to do consistently throughout the course of the game,” Willie Green said in postgame.

Josh Hart was a little more blunt with his remarks when describing what went wrong.

Valanciunas finished with another double-double (23 points, 14 rebounds), his sixth in a row. Hart posted a line of 16 points, nine rebounds and three assists. The starting backcourt of Devonte’ Graham and Nickeil Alexander-Walker combined for 22 points, but it took them 29 shot attempts to reach that total. Te’ did have one memorable bucket though.

Garrett Temple was a positive off the bench in his return from injury, scoring eight points (including a couple of big third quarter 3s), swiping four steals and coming up with two blocks. The rest of New Orleans’ reserves, though, were rather underwhelming overall.

Mikal Bridges led the Suns in scoring with 22 points. Booker (18 points, eight rebounds) and CP3 (14 points, 18 assists) did their thing as well. However, it really hurt that Phoenix more than made up for DeAndre Ayton’s absence in JaVale McGee (18 points) and Frank Kaminsky (17 points, four steals) coming through with big games.

It would have been nice for the Pelicans to snap their losing ways to begin this season, winning one for their new head coach who had spent the last few years in Phoenix, but it wasn’t meant to be. Can’t blame his wonderful coaching style though.

Up next, the Pelicans return right back to the hardwood tomorrow in Sacramento. They fell to these Kings last Friday 113-109 in New Orleans. A little payback would certainly ease some of the current despair among the fanbase.

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.