The drive for five never had a chance. The Pelicans took a hard first quarter punch (44-34) and then a third quarter haymaker (40-14) in falling 129-116 to the Bulls in Chicago Wednesday evening.
It’s a disappointing outcome considering that New Orleans had been playing really well over the past week in winning four straight to move within a game of .500 in the tough Western Conference.
Credit the Bulls for their explosive play, but the Pelicans didn’t offer the greatest of resistance. The box score doesn’t tell any lies. Zach LaVine finished with 46 points and nine three-pointers on 17 of 25 shooting overall and Coby White added 30 points and eight threes.
You read those stats correctly. 76 combined points for the starting backcourt of the now 10-14 Bulls. Chicago also made 25 of 47 three-point attempts. None of that can happen, but that’s the result when New Orleans fails to match the focus and energy against a more determined opponent.
“Bad combination tonight of them being great and making shots and us being a step slow defensively,” Stan Van Gundy said in postgame.
Chicago established their good rhythm right out of the gates and New Orleans’ defense did nothing to dissuade it. When an opponent starts 12-14 from the field and is a perfect 8-8 from deep, it’s on a team to force them to do something else. Give them something else to look at. Maybe overplay the three-point shot for a few possessions, substantially change coverages, or force the ball into the hands of those less comfortable, but don't allow LaVine — the Bulls only bonafide scorer — to receive good looks all night.
The Pelicans momentarily made a game of it, bouncing back nicely in outscoring the Bulls 40-22 in the second quarter behind Lonzo Ball’s 19 first-half points, but they were unable to sustain any of that effort after halftime.
The Bulls began the third quarter on a 19-2 run and New Orleans’ eight-point intermission lead evaporated in the blink of an eye. Two quick timeouts by Stan Van Gundy didn’t change that tune, nor did sitting Eric Bledsoe less than four minutes into the second half.
Zion Williamson was efficient in scoring 29 points, but he didn’t make much of impact anywhere else. And foul trouble was an issue at times for a second straight contest. Brandon Ingram contributed less though, needing 19 shots to get to his 21-point total. After Ball’s shining first half, he was eerily quiet afterwards, closing with a line of 21 points, seven assists, five rebounds and four threes.
Off the bench, Kira Lewis Jr. showed good flashes in his 24 minutes to finish with 14 points, four assists, two steals, two rebounds and two threes. Josh Hart added eight points and six rebounds, Willy Hernangomez had nine points and three rebounds.
The Bulls went on three substantial runs during the game, but the Pelicans couldn’t offset the barrage. Instead, they were often out of sync. They had five turnovers in the first quarter, and after halftime we witnessed some bad hero ball. For instance, Lonzo sailed a home run pass well over Zion’s outstretched hands on the run, Williamson settled for a three-pointer when the Pelicans were desperate for any third quarter score and JJ Redick, one of the game’s best shooters, ran into a charge in the paint, passing on an open jumper.
That’s not winning basketball for New Orleans and certainly not the display we saw from a team which had won six of eight games.
Maybe playing on the second night of a back-to-back or their 24th game in 50 days led to the inconsistent effort. Tired legs and/or minds can be a thing. Either way, New Orleans dropped a game to an opponent that’s not expected to make the playoffs in the East and now they must attempt to correct their mistakes in Dallas, against a Mavericks team that swept the season series 4-0 from them a year ago.