The first bucket of the game turned out to be the high point of the night.
After that, it was, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” until the start of the fourth quarter, where the locomotive derailed and flew down the side of the mountain.
Seriously, the margin was never any wider than two points in the first three quarters: 26-28, 26-26, 30-29. The final frame was sadly the direct opposite (15-29).
Despite never finding their footing defensively enough to make one decently long stand, the Pelicans were in legitimate position to snatch a road victory. Entering the fourth, they trailed by a mere point at 83-82. It really felt like they would get over the hump, especially after Josh Hart seemed to set the tone by blanketing Derrick White into a bad miss. But instead the floodgates opened.
The Spurs began the final frame on a 7-0 run. The Pelicans produced five turnovers not five minutes in. San Antonio seemingly enjoyed nothing but good looks within the flow of their offense while New Orleans struggled through much of their shot clocks with mildly contested attempts at a minimum.
“They just turned it up,” Willie Green said in postgame. “We had a discussion in the huddle about the fourth quarter: our ability to execute. On the first play, we get a good look, but a guy gets behind us and they kick it ahead. Layup. And it just kind of trickled down from there. It’s another area where we just have to be better. Our guys, for three quarters, went out and played a pretty good game all around. Then in the fourth quarter, things just got away from us.”
That fourth quarter was u-g-l-y for the Pelicans: 5-22 FGA (22.7%), 1-7 3PTA (14.3%), 4-7 FTA (57.1%) and one assist versus six turnovers.
Brandon Ingram wound up with a final line of 27 points, seven rebounds and nine assists. Jonas Valanciunas (17 points, 11 rebounds) and Josh Hart (13 points, 10 rebounds) checked off the double-double box again — and Willy Hernangomez (10 points, nine rebounds) nearly joined them. Nickeil Alexander-Walker hit his first three shot attempts from 3-point range to finish with 15 points. Herb Jones posted a pair of steals and blocks.
The individual statistics look fine because the game was competitive and entertaining for the vast majority of action. But fourth quarters are winning time — and the Pelicans laid an egg. The Spurs, meanwhile, stuck to their game plan with solid execution throughout.
Case in point, San Antonio’s two most spectacular boxscores were produced by Jacob Poetl (24 points, 12 rebounds, three assists) and Derrick White (24 points, eight rebounds, nine assists), two guys largely considered solid role players.
The margin for victory is indeed small for New Orleans. If they fail to put their best foot forward for any significant period of time within games, good results won’t follow. Chalk up another example this Sunday evening.
Up next, the Pelicans have a few days off before facing the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Wednesday.