The question sitting at the forefront of all fans’ minds coming into tonight’s matchup: How would the New Orleans Pelicans respond after getting throttled by the Dallas Mavericks on their home court a few days ago?
Judging by the winning 107-91 box score, the Pelicans earned an A grade, but the execution of the game plan was a beautiful sight to behold.
Garrett Temple, Herb Jones and, at times, Brandon Ingram did about as well as one could hope against a player of Luka Doncic’s caliber. He finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and seven turnovers. New Orleans’ defense never allowed Dallas’ superstar to seize control of the game (7-20 FGA) and provide his usual game-changing momentum.
For the Pelicans offensively, Ingram led the way and he played as well as he has all season: 24 points, eight rebounds, 12 assists and two steals. He also got to the free throw line 11 times, converting nine of those attempts.
“Yeah, Brandon is a special player,” Willie Green said in postgame. “I’ve talked about him a number of times. He watches a ton of film. His work ethic is off the charts. He’s just getting better and better. The beauty in it is that he’s trusting the guys on the floor and they trust him.”
Ingram’s effort level was great, but his reads were truly impressive. He got himself open a few times by getting Dallas’ defense off-balance. His attacks were decisive, resulting in sublime passes to open teammates or smart shot attempts. As evidenced by a 7 for 20 shooting performance, Ingram wasn’t in top form, but one could see he was in a good zone — every decision was on point.
Although the Pelicans won by 16 points, one would have never guessed that outcome after watching the stomach-churning play of the first quarter.
New Orleans’ first points of the game came on a couple of Temple free throws at the 8:19 mark. An 0-9 shooting start morphed into two makes in 20 tries. Nearly 10 minutes in, the deficit stood at 13-7.
The Pelicans missed a few field goals they normally knock down. One felt the Mavericks would invariably get hot and perhaps put this one away early, but that never happened. The defense held strong for the full 48 minutes. Key contributions from unexpected parts of the roster soon got the offense going.
After Kira Lewis Jr. produced a nice running layup, a Tomas Satoransky cut resulted in an important And-1. Sandwiched around that hoop, Trey Murphy III hit a couple of 3-pointers inside a four-minute span.
Murphy scored nine points for the game, knocking down all three of his 3-point attempts. He’s now made 11 of his last 14 deep balls, raising his 3PT% on the season to 41.3%.
“He’s doing a good job,” Green said of Murphy’s improvement. “He’s working with coach Corey Brewer. They’re in the gym every day, and I’m watching Trey, he’s serious about just getting better. I think he’s starting to catch up with the speed of the game.”
After a 14-point first quarter, New Orleans proceeded to rack up 93 points over the final three frames. Once that good rhythm was discovered, the Pelicans fired on all cylinders, leading to a great 3-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
“We’re getting better at trusting each other,” Green said. “Tonight, 30 assists and 10 turnovers. That’s the recipe for our team.”
When New Orleans has doled out 29 or more assists, they have a 4-1 record on the season.
Once the Pelicans opened up a double-digit lead in the third quarter, the most pivotal point came in the last frame. With 5:59 left in regulation, the Mavericks had pulled within nine points after a Tim Hardaway Jr. bucket. Nickeil Alexander-Walker followed with a drive to the front of the rim and scored from four feet away. Thirty seconds later, he hit a 3-pointer, assisting on another deep ball to Ingram on the next possession.
Although Nickeil tossed a few inadvertent passes early, his decision-making late was excellent. NAW finished with nine points, three rebounds and two assists.
Jonas Valanciunas (14 points, 11 rebounds) and Willy Hernangomez (12 points, 14 assists) finished with double-doubles — they’ve been a heck of a tandem at center since Billy moved into the backup role.
That’s six wins in the last 12 games for the Pelicans, with three of them coming on the road against playoff-tested teams: Jazz, Clippers, and now, Mavericks.
Up next, the Pelicans fly to Houston to face the Rockets on Sunday and there’s a chance to take advantage of a weaker upcoming schedule. Four of the next five games will come against opponents with similar lackluster records: Rockets, Pistons, Thunder and Spurs.
If the Pelicans can bring the type of effort witnessed tonight more consistently, then a 7-18 record could look markedly better by the middle of this month.