For the second game in a row, the New Orleans Pelicans found their mojo down the stretch to overcome a double-digit second half deficit.
This time, the Pels defeated the Detroit Pistons 128-118, earning a split of the season series.
Freshly-minted All-Star Zion Williamson led all scorers with 32 points in just 31 minutes, while shooting 13-18 from the floor. Zion also added six rebounds and five assists. New Orleans is 7-0 when Williamson has at least five assists this season, with each of those games coming in the last month.
It was the 11th 30-point game of his young career.
Zion Williamson over his last 8 games:— Will Guillory (@WillGuillory) February 25, 2021
30.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 67.9 FG%, 74.6 FT%
He's scored 30+ in 4 of those 8 games.
Brandon Ingram played a complete game on both ends, with 27 points, seven boards, and eight assists.
Steven Adams returned to the lineup after being sidelined for two games and posted a double-double with 14 points and 15 rebounds.
The difference makers in the team’s historic win over Boston, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart, were not as statistically dominant, but both were highly effective on the defensive end and strung together enough shots to keep the pressure on Detroit.
Ball finished with 12 points, eight assists, six rebounds, and three steals, while Hart added 11 points.
Stan Van Gundy in postgame says that Lonzo Ball has gotten some credit but not nearly enough when talking about how well the offense has been playing for most of this season.— Oleh Kosel (@OlehKosel) February 25, 2021
"He's been outstanding."
The Pelicans played downhill for most of the night, finishing with a season-high 74 points in the paint.
If Williamson wasn’t making a powerful pirouette on the way to a feathery layup, Adams was cleaning up a miss for a second chance bucket.
SPIN CYCLE AND-ONE pic.twitter.com/ladjQqGPsx— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) February 25, 2021
When Williamson wasn’t cooking, Ingram was slashing to the rim, fed by a perfectly placed pass by Ball. Or he was shooting over the top of smaller defenders time and time again.
B.I. feeling it early pic.twitter.com/97ppJBSFPc— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) February 25, 2021
New Orleans had no problem finding the open man, racking up assists on 31 of their 50 baskets. The Pelicans starters combined for 26 while committing only six turnovers.
Offensive fireworks have become commonplace for the New Orleans Pelicans. Not just this season, but for the past few. As it has been said, offense will never be a problem for the Pelicans.
The focus remains on the team’s consistently inconsistent defense.
After allowing the Pistons to score a season-high 69 points without Jerami Grant, Delon Wright, and Blake Griffin, New Orleans went into the locker room trailing by five.
The Pelicans defense began to stiffen in the third quarter, holding the Pistons to 27 points. New Orleans took the three pointer out of Detroit’s arsenal. After giving up nine threes in the first half, the Pels sliced that number in half, allowing only four the rest of the way.
Pistons turnovers became Pelicans points, as New Orleans scored 10 of their 32 third quarter points off of Detroit miscues.
Ingram and Williamson both scored 11 in the quarter as the Pelicans pulled even at 96 after 36 minutes.
The fourth quarter was even better. Detroit managed only 22 points in the final period while the Pelicans closed with 32, giving them 30 or more in all four quarters. New Orleans made 11 of its final 17 shots as the Pistons finally stopped firing.
New Orleans won the game but still allowed Detroit to shoot nearly 53% from the floor. Throughout the first half, assignment discipline was lacking and even during the second half surge, there were multiple instances where players either made the wrong decision or failed to give the proper defensive effort.
The Pelicans have only won three games in a row one other time this season. Tomorrow they begin a two game road trip in Milwaukee against the Bucks before heading to San Antonio on Saturday; with the Utah Jazz visiting the Smoothie King Center next Monday.
Claiming at least two wins over the next three games would be a huge confidence boost for this young team, as well as a lift to their postseason chances. They will be facing opponents more talented than the Pistons, more disciplined than the Pistons, and simply better.
With Williamson and Ingram finding their late-game equilibrium on offense, Stan Van Gundy would like to see the same intensity from his team for four quarters, instead of just the fourth quarter.
“They’ve done a good job the last two games (of closing game), so you hope that we continue that habit,” said Van Gundy after the game. “Every day is a new day though, and a new challenge. I think that’s the way I’m looking at it, and I hope that’s the way they’re looking at it. I’ve said to you guys numerous times that I’m not a big believer in momentum or anything else. Momentum is whatever you bring to the floor that night.”
The flashes are there. But for the Pelicans to take the next step, they can’t show flashes, they have to project a strong and steady beam. Thursday night is another chance to see if New Orleans has enough juice to power a run of wins heading into the All-Star Break and beyond.