Hey, these Clippers felt like a tough matchup on paper.
Although the Pelicans were coming off a 30-point loss to the Timberwolves — but a 34-point victory over the Cavaliers in a two-day span, Los Angeles represented a much more difficult test, entering Sunday night just a game out of second in the Western Conference standings.
Well, New Orleans simply demolished the Clippers by a final score of 135-115, making an astounding 65.4% of their field goal attempts.
In the wire-to-wire victory, everyone contributed to the box score and appeared to have a lot of fun playing together while putting forth maximum individual effort. Seriously, the activity level was there from start to finish. Among the starters and reserves.
“It is what you bring every single night, and I think the first three games here after the break have shown one thing: we are capable of being very, very good and we are capable of being very, very bad,” Stan Van Gundy said in postgame. “It is all about what we bring to the game.”
Lonzo Ball got things rolling for New Orleans, scoring 11 of the team’s first 17 points of the game. After that, everyone else on the roster took a turn in adding to the total, with the largest percentage of the scores coming from in the painted area.
The Pelicans outscored the Clippers by a whopping 72-40 margin inside the paint, with Zion Williamson leading that attack. The 2021 All-Star was unstoppable in getting to the rim with ease, scoring 27 points (13-16 FGs) and dishing five assists. Brandon Ingram had 23 points (7-12 FGs) and five assists. And the aforementioned Ball finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and ... you guessed it, five assists.
“They really tried to load up on our two best players, and those guys were willing to get off the ball and then the other guys made plays,” Van Gundy said afterwards. “Lonzo (Ball) got us off to a great start shooting the three and opening up the floor. Bled (Eric Bledsoe) had eight assists, Zion (Williamson) five, (Brandon Ingram) five, Lonzo five, Kira (Lewis Jr.) four. The ball just moved freely. We played very, very unselfishly on the offensive end, and then we shot the ball well, which obviously helps you.”
The Pelicans tallied 38 assists for the game, easily besting their season-high of 33 dimes (2/16 @ Memphis). My favorite dish of the night, though, came from an unlikely source.
After the ball had moved around the perimeter nicely, Jaxson Hayes’ momentum was moving towards the rim with the ball, but in a split-second decision, he found Lonzo all by his lonesome self in the opposite corner.
The Pelicans decision-making was on point and the ball-sharing contagious, but that Hayes’ assist really stands out because he did so many things well. Again. Jaxson recently jumped ahead of Willy Hernangomez in the rotation at center, and he’s been proving Van Gundy’s decision a correct one ever since, with the most spirited play we’ve seen out of him to date.
There was a no-hesitation dive to the floor during a chaotic scramble that led directly to points. There were fantastic rolls to the rim. A fun catch from Zion for an alley-oop. An important offensive rebound and putback. And one flagrant murder of Reggie Jackson.
That's a grown man dunk pic.twitter.com/5TAQczYQJ2— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) March 15, 2021
Perhaps even better than the dunk, though, there was great activity by Hayes near the defensive rim. For instance, even though one play didn’t result a blocked shot, the sheer attempt by Jaxson forced Ivica Zubic to miss a point-blank layup.
For the game, Hayes finished with 17 points on a perfect 6-6 from the field and 5-5 from the free throw line. He also added three rebounds, a steal and a block.
Another standout on the night was Kira Lewis Jr. The rookie has struggled with his shot in most games, but there were no such issues present in his 13-point, four-assist, three-rebound and two-steal line. The three-ball isn’t dropping like he wants yet, but it feels like Lewis is finding a nice comfort zone with his scores inside the paint.
Despite playing only 20 minutes, Steven Adams nearly posted a double-double, finishing with nine points and eight rebounds. Josh Hart added 13 points, six assists and five rebounds in a tidy 27 minutes.
To be fair, though, it wasn’t an entirely perfect night for the Pelicans. Nickeil Alexander-Walker was forced from the game with a sprained ankle after just six minutes of first-half action. He was questionable to return but never reappeared.
For the Clippers, Kawhi Leonard led the Clippers with 23 points and Paul George was held to 15. One has to credit the New Orleans’ defense. The activity was especially noticeable on that end of the floor — it’s hard to recall but just a handful of open jumpers ceded to Los Angeles.
The simple fact is the Pelicans have the talent to compete against anybody in the league. We’ve seen evidence of that against the Suns, the Jazz and now the Clippers. The hope is loss to the Timberwolves will be something that sticks with the group for the rest of the season — if the last two dominant victories are any indication, but teams don’t grow that quickly overnight.
The New Orleans Pelicans are likely to remain the most perplexing team in the league, but on this Sunday evening, they looked like a world-beater against an opponent favored to win it all.