After a wonderfully harmonious 42 minutes of basketball that would have made any composer proud, the Pelicans watched another victory slip through their very fingers.
With 5:56 remaining in the game, New Orleans led Portland by 17 points. They had played brilliantly up to that point, scoring at will and occasionally finding success defensively. Then the Trail Blazers proceeded to go on a 13-0 run. The game remained a tussle until the very end, with the Pelicans having and whiffing on three good opportunities to escape with a victory in the waning moments.
With 7.2 seconds left in regulation and a lead of 124-121, Brandon Ingram was fouled after New Orleans had inbounded the ball and it found their most trusted free throw shooter.
He missed them both.
Damian Lillard had his 3rd 50-pt, 10-ast game of his career, matching Tiny Archibald and Russell Westbrook for 2nd-most all-time.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 17, 2021
He also only needed 20 FGA to score 50 pts. It's the 3rd-fewest FGA in a 50-point game in the shot-clock era (since 1954-55) h/t @EliasSports pic.twitter.com/58qFJTEwxT
The Pelicans smartly fouled Lillard on the ensuing possession to prevent him from launching a three-pointer which could have tied things up. He knocked down both freebies — Dame was a perfect 18-18 from the charity stripe en route to an MVP-worthy line of 50 points, 10 assists, six rebounds and six threes.
But New Orleans still had a one-point lead and possession.
Out of a timeout, Lonzo Ball inbounded to Nickeil Alexander-Walker and he immediately bobbled the catch out of bounds.
On Portland’s possession following another timeout, the ball found Damian Lillard and he rose up to shoot a midrange jumper but Eric Bledsoe fouled him on the attempt.
Of course, Dolla knocked down both free throws.
With just 1.2 seconds left and no timeouts remaining, Ball impressively connected with Zion Williamson on a 3⁄4 length of the court hail mary pass, but Z’s one-hand floater from about 10 feet out missed the mark off the glass. End result: a record-breaking 125-124 loss on the season.
From @ESPNStatsInfo: Entering tonight, teams were 236-0 when leading by 17+ points within the final 6 minutes of the game this season.— Andrew Lopez (@_Andrew_Lopez) March 17, 2021
Pelicans led by 17 with 5:56 to go.
Portland wins, 125-124.
Just when you thought the New Orleans Pelicans looked like a team that was figuring out some very important things, they failed to close out a victory in unbelievably poor fashion. But we’ve seen this act before. Multiple times this season, actually.
Williamson finished with 28 points, five rebounds and eight assists (a new career high) and Ingram added 30 points, six rebounds and three triples. Ball had a double-double with 11 points and a new career-high 17 assists.
Off the bench, Alexander-Walker scored 20 points, nailed six threes and had five rebounds, and Josh Hart added 16 points, nine rebounds and a couple of threes. Despite a meager stat line, Jaxson Hayes made another positive impact.
For the game, the Pelicans shot 52.3% from the field, 48.5% from three and 80% from the foul line. They had 38 assists — the same number as in their win against the Clippers this past Sunday. They also outscored the Blazers 56-34 in the paint and had a decided 41-32 advantage in the rebounding department.
According to the box score, the Pelicans should have won the game. They definitely played well enough to earn the W for the vast majority despite Dame’s brilliance. We witnessed so many good things and yet everyone’s going to remember the implosion over the final six minutes.
Sad trombone pic.twitter.com/HSdkxckvl9— Andy Glockner (@AndyGlockner) March 17, 2021
Ingram is still struggling with coming through in the closer role. Others are failing to make the right key play often, too. But long before the failures inside the last seconds of the game, the Pelicans made even more mistakes.
The offense became stagnant and winning plays ceased during that six-minute disaster. Ingram tried to force a pass to Hart on a drive which was stolen. Zion tried to dribble through a crowd that resulted in a turnover. And Lonzo attempted a low percentage stepback three with a hand in his face which missed.
The growing pains for this team are very real. The Pelicans are a young squad who can’t get out of their own way enough. As I’ve maintained for several weeks now, the remaining schedule is likely to be a roller coaster until — what’s shaping up to be — the bitter end.
From a W/L perspective, tonight sucked, but no one knows what the next game may bring — things could be more joyful again. No, this isn’t meant to make anyone feel better, but we should all be used to this wild ride by now.
For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.