The New Orleans Pelicans were just 12 minutes away from posting a solid victory without the services of Steven Adams, but then the train flew off the tracks. Once the dust settled, the Sacramento Kings sat on the winning side of a 118-109 score.
For seemingly the first time this season, the Pelicans couldn’t get anything going for the entirety of a fourth quarter. They recorded just six field goals. Conversely, De’Aaron Fox had seven makes alone in the final frame.
That’s right, the Kings’ point guard outscored this Pelicans’ team by himself in the fourth quarter by a 17-15 margin, helping power Sacramento past New Orleans to their fourth win in the last five games.
That’s really a shame because the Pelicans had played relatively well for the first three quarters. In addition to holding a 94-87 advantage, they appeared the better team to all onlookers. They were more proficient shooting the ball from beyond the arc and the free throw line. They had committed only five turnovers. They had more points off turnovers (20-10), points in the paint (48-36), second chance points (18-10) and fast break points (12-7). And Willy Hernangomez and Josh Hart were making big play after big play off the bench.
If we’re pointing fingers, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson didn’t get it done in the final quarter, combining to make just 1 of 5 field goals while committing four turnovers. No one else stepped up, sure, but it’s not as easy to blame others as they haven’t been handed the keys like the two cornerstones.
Of course, we must also make mention of the fact that the defense faltered drastically down the stretch. One man beat them repeatedly for scores. And we nearly witnessed the exact same show two weeks ago — so New Orleans cannot say they didn’t see this coming.
On Jan. 17, De’Aaron Fox scored a career-high 43 points against the Pelicans. Tonight he totaled 38 points. He added 12 assists, too. He was by far the best player on the basketball court in the second half.
“He was in the paint all the time,” Van Gundy said. “He was by us defensively and we didn’t give good help. We just couldn’t stop him at all in the fourth quarter. We didn’t stop him really the whole night, but really in the fourth quarter we couldn’t stop him at all.”
Fox was determined and decisive in all his actions. The Pelicans were not. That was the determining fourth quarter in a nutshell, really.
For the game, Williamson posted his lowest point total in 13 games, finishing with 17 points, but there were positives, as highlighted by the eight rebounds, two steals and three blocks. His defense and effort away from the offensive side of things is noticeably improving.
Ingram scored 20 points, but it took him 20 shot attempts to reach that total. He didn’t look like he had his legs at times. More concerning though, he’s fallen off the pace with contributions elsewhere, specifically in the rebounding and assist departments. After posting an average of 7.0 rebounds and 5.6 assists in December, those figures slipped to 4.6 and 4.4 respectively in January. Tonight he added only five rebounds and two assists.
JJ Redick received his third straight DNP, but Kira Lewis Jr. received 16 minutes of run. The rookie had a few good moments. However, from among the reserves Josh Hart (15 points, 13 rebounds, four assists) and Willy Hernangomez (13 points, 11 rebounds, two assists) made a far greater positive impact.
Why was Willy not given minutes before now? Really fun sequence here leads to a Zion finish. pic.twitter.com/3D7FWHEihT— Preston Ellis (@PrestonEllis) February 2, 2021
Following the game, the Pelicans head coach answered Preston’s question.
“It’s something that we’ll have to talk about,” Stan Van Gundy said. “We know that Willy’s a good player. We knew when we signed him. I was excited about the signing. He’s a good basketball player with some experience… so your decision becomes basically, ‘Are you going to play him and take the minutes from a young guy like Jaxson Hayes?’ I mean that’s what it comes down to, and that’s really as simple as a decision gets. It’s either he or Jaxson. It’s not going to be both of them; not when Steven’s (Adams) back healthy. I mean, it won’t be both of them. That will have to be the decision.”
This early in the season, I would prefer to see the Pelicans chase wins harder than prioritizing development. This is especially true in Hayes’ case, whose ceiling doesn’t appear very high to me. But I’ll delve into this idea more in the next day or so.
After winning two games in a row, the Pelicans have now dropped two straight. They remain mired next to last in the Western Conference standings. This season is beginning to slip away, but it looks like accumulating wins aren’t the end-all-be-all.
Feels like a good time to reevaluate expectations when a developing player is awarded minutes ahead of a better option, right?