For the first time this season, New Orleans has gone streaking. Thankfully, it didn’t require anyone to take off their clothes after the Pelicans’ 118-109 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies Saturday night in the Smoothie King Center.
This win was the first of what should be four matchups between the two Southwest Division rivals. The Pelicans are now winners of three straight for the first time this season and have bagged five victories in their last seven games.
New Orleans got off to a strong start offensively thanks to Lonzo Ball. The point guard has been on fire in recent games and his hot shooting continued against the Grizzlies, scoring a team-high nine points in the first quarter on 3 of 4 shooting. All of Ball’s points came from behind the three-point arc in the opening frame. Ball would finish the game with 16 points, seven assists and seven rebounds, registering a steal and block as well.
When Lonzo Ball has scored more than 15 points, Pelicans are now 7-1 on the 2020-21 season— Oleh Kosel (@OlehKosel) February 7, 2021
16 PTS @ TOR (12/23): W
16 PTS vs SAS (12/27): W
16 PTS vs OKC (12/31): W
18 PTS vs IND (1/4): L
27 PTS vs MIL (1/29): W
18 PTS vs PHX (2/3): W
20 PTS @ IND (2/5): W
16 PTS vs MEM (2/6): W
While it was nice to see his shot fall, Lonzo’s scoring was far from the only thing he brought to bear against the Grizzlies. Ball’s stingy defense helped limit Memphis’ star Ja Morant to zero points in the first quarter. In addition, his aggressive and decisive play also created good scoring opportunities for his teammates. It’s starting to feel like Lonzo Ball is in the early days of what could be a breakout season — if he can continue playing at the high level we’ve seen the past couple of weeks.
Ball wasn’t alone in starting strongly out of the gates, however, as Zion Williamson added eight points on 3 of 5 shooting and 2 of 3 from the free throw line. Memphis didn’t really have an answer for Zion, but then again, that’s quickly becoming a theme for opponents.
The Grizzlies tried pretty much every wing and guard on Zion, even getting caught several times with Ja Morant on Zion after switches. Zion could have perhaps scored 40 points in this game, but foul trouble forced him to sit at times. New Orleans also failed to get him the ball when he had several glaring mismatches.
Despite the solid early play, New Orleans trailed Memphis 33-31 at the end of the opening quarter. The Grizzlies kept the game close through some hot shooting, going 7 of 13 from three-point range. Six different Grizzlies hit a three-point shot in the first quarter alone.
New Orleans and Memphis played mostly to a stalemate in the second quarter. The Pelicans relied heavily on Brandon Ingram and he lead all scorers in the frame with scoring 10 points on 4 of 7 shooting, including 2 of 3 from deep. BI finished the game with 27 points, 12 rebounds, five threes, three assists and a new career-high of four blocks.
The Pelicans’ defensive intensity noticeably improved in that second quarter, holding Memphis to only 40.7% from the field while forcing five turnovers. New Orleans did, however, have trouble containing Memphis’ second-year point guard. Morant was masterful at times, putting pressure on the Pelicans defense out of the pick and roll using his speed to create opportunities for himself. Despite a solid second quarter, New Orleans trailed Memphis at the end of the first half, 61-60.
After getting into a bit of foul trouble in the first half, Zion came out ultra aggressive in the third quarter. Williamson had 12 points on 3 of 5 shooting while also earning six free throw attempts — making all six. Zion has continued to improve his playmaking as the season has progressed. Zion finished the game with game-high 29 points to go with four rebounds and five assists. Williamson found open teammates all night and probably should have notched a few more assists had several other shots fallen.
Head Coach Stan Van Gundy praised both Zion and Ingram in postgame for their improved playmaking in recent contests.
“Both he (Ingram) and Zion, I think that they trust their teammates. They know they’re good players and they’re making plays for them. They are using their abilities to make the right play. We think of basketball as being about athletic ability and skills and obviously both those things are important, but this is a game of decisions at both ends of the floor. The best players in this league are great decision-makers and making shot pass decisions are a big part of that: when do I pass it and when do I shoot it?”
Another bright but unexpected spot that emerged was the continued development of Kira Lewis Jr. The rookie point guard got some extended run against Memphis, seeing a little over 18 minutes in the matchup that included some first quarter action. Lewis looked quite comfortable, setting up teammates for easy scores and even forcing an important turnover late in the game when the Pelicans needed a boost.
Lewis finished the game with six points, four assists and one rebound. The young guard is steadily earning minutes and the respect of his teammates. New Orleans may have found something special in the young guard out of the University of Alabama.
Heading into the fourth quarter, New Orleans trailed narrowly by a 91-90 margin. The Pelicans showed trouble closing out games earlier in the season, but not tonight. Maybe inspired by their victory over the Pacers 24 hours earlier, they did what good teams do: defend down the stretch.
After the Grizzlies opened up a 102-95 lead with 7:17 left, the Pelicans seized control on both ends of the floor, finishing the game on a 23-7 run. Memphis was held to 18 points overall in the frame, making only 30% of their shot attempts and 18.2% from the three-point line.
“It was hard to get a grasp on Ja Morant in pick-and-rolls,” Stan Van Gundy said in postgame. “He’s really, really good. We tried several different things and he had success against all of them. It was tough, but in the fourth quarter we got it under control a little bit. As I always say, I thought we played a little better and they missed. That’s the way it goes. That thing that people say, ‘It’s a make or miss league,’ that may be simplistic, but it has a lot to do with it.”
Eric Bledsoe was a big contributor late in the game. The Pelicans guard scored 11 points in the fourth quarter which included 3 of 5 from three-point range, helping give New Orleans the necessary breathing room to an easy finish. Bledsoe finished the game with 21 points, four rebounds and five assists.
With their third straight win, New Orleans improves their record to 10-12. Up next, the Pelicans will have a few days off before welcoming the Houston Rockets on Tuesday. Stay tuned for a preview of that game.