After trailing by as many as 23 points in the first half, the undermanned New Orleans Pelicans rode Herb Jones and the suddenly hot-shooting Garrett Temple to a shocking 108-104 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Playing without Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, the Pelicans outscored the Cavs 32-21 in the fourth quarter and matched the second-largest comeback in team history, and won for the sixth time in their last eight outings.
Herb Jones was brilliant, scoring a team and season-high 26 points, while adding seven rebounds, three assists, and three blocks. Jones extended his run of games with at least one blocked shot to 13, tying Anthony Davis for that franchise mark.
Check out this rotation and block by Herb Jones. Looks almost like vintage Draymond Green— Draft Dummies (@DraftDummies) December 29, 2021
Herb's going to be in the All-Defensive team for years to come pic.twitter.com/HzCdkYPCaf
“He was the SEC Player of the Year for a reason,” Garrett Temple said in postgame. “Him and I talk a lot and he says ‘I just, I don’t do much. I just play off the guys that are playing with me.’ But his ability to really handle the ball, get downhill, finish, put pressure on defense at the rim, we needed that especially without Josh (Hart) tonight.
“Then give a lot of credit to him and coach for putting a lot of work at the three-point line. He’s really shooting the ball with a lot of confidence. Fred Vinson has done a great job with him there so the sky is the limit for him, if he can just get his foot behind the line.”
Ricky Rubio nearly posted a triple-double for Cleveland with a game-high 27 points, 13 rebounds, and nine assists before leaving with a knee injury in the fourth quarter. Kevin Love (24) and Evan Mobley (22) combined for 46 points in the losing effort.
The Pelicans were trailing 76-83 entering the fourth, but had won both the second and third quarters by a combined 12 points to put themselves within striking distance.
Cleveland opened the final period with a quick 7-2 run over the first two minutes, pushing its lead back to 12 before Temple got going.
First, Temple attacked the rim for a right-handed layup to make it 80-90. Temple would score 17 of the next 23 points for the Pelicans, going a perfect 6-for-6 from the field, including all five of his three point attempts.
HOT HAND IN THE DICE GAME— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) December 29, 2021
Temple gives the Pelicans the lead with his 5th three of the gmae!
: @ESPNRadioNOLA pic.twitter.com/7s7yuJgXgS
His fifth gave the Pelicans a 99-97 lead, their first of the entire game, with 3:18 remaining on the clock.
Over the last two games, Temple has scored 39 points on 15-24 shooting (7-14 3PA). He had 37 in his previous 10.
Clinging to that two-point lead with under two minutes to play, Temple came up with a steal and found Devonte’ Graham who knocked down a pull-up three in transition to put New Orleans up five.
It was the 16th bucket from deep for the Pels, another season-high.
Though Kevin Love was able to bury a couple of difficult three-pointers in the waning seconds, New Orleans did its job at the free throw line. Graham and Jonas Valanciunas combined to make all six of their attempts from the charity stripe, sealing the improbable victory.
Pelicans television analyst Antonio Daniel called it the best coaching job of Willie Green’s young tenure, and it would be very hard to make an argument against him.
This team was down in every way it could possibly be, but it battled for 48 minutes, something that hasn’t been the norm in New Orleans in prior seasons.
Gary Clark and Jared Harper provided energy and 19 very necessary points. Jaxson Hayes was active and contributed seven points and eight rebounds, finishing with a team-best +22 plus/minus.
“That’s the way we have to play,” Green said. “In any sport or anything you do in life, you have to be confident in what you’re doing, and the guys have confidence because they put the work in. Garrett (Temple), (Jared Harper) Harp, all of the guys...they’re in the gym every day. You guys see them. They’re putting the work in, and it translates. That’s why no matter what happens we can go out and give ourselves a chance. It doesn’t mean we’re going to win every game, but it’s a huge blessing to have a group like this that comes in everyday and enjoys being around each other and they just hoop. It’s fun.”
It was definitely fun. The Pelicans made no excuses and found a way.
That’s something that fans want to and have been waiting to get behind. Whatever buttons Green is pushing, his team is responding.
Heading into one of the more difficult stretches of the season, that’s a very encouraging sign.
The Pelicans aren’t perfect. Far from it. But they can find success in spite of their shortcomings without swinging for the fences on the trade market.
The last few weeks have shown us that.
New Orleans (13-22) is off until New Year’s Day when it will travel to face the Milwaukee Bucks in the second and final games of the season series between the two.
As of Tuesday night, the Pels sit two games out of 10th in the West.
Yo. But for real. Herb Jones.
If Herb Jones’ defense was a soundbite. pic.twitter.com/6v2SosapLw— David Grubb (@DMGrubb) December 29, 2021
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 @DMGrubb.