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Zion’s career-high 39 points not enough as Pelicans falter down stretch against Nuggets, lose 113-108

Denver closed the game on a 24-8 run to spoil New Orleans’ bid for third straight win

NBA: Denver Nuggets at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports


Five days ago, the New Orleans Pelicans went to Denver and beat the Nuggets by that very score.

Friday night, the Nuggets returned the favor, overcoming a 14-point second half deficit to beat the Pelicans for a 113-108 victory that ended New Orleans’ modest two-game winning streak.

New Orleans led by 11 as the teams neared the six minute mark, but was outscored 24-8 down the stretch. All eight points were scored by Zion Williamson.

The Pelicans were down by three with 26 seconds remaining and had a chance to cut into the lead or tie the game. However, they were unable to even get a shot attempt off, turning the ball over after a shot clock violation.

Will Barton knocked down a pair of free throws for the final margin.

Williamson posted his 11th double-double of the season, scoring a career-high 39 points while grabbing 10 rebounds. He also extended his streak of 20 point games to 22, the longest in the NBA this season.

After scoring at least 30 points in each of his last two games, Brandon Ingram was held to 13 points on 5-of-17 shooting. After making his first three attempts, Ingram was 2 for 14 the rest of the way.

The Nuggets made Ingram the focal point of their defense, denying him the basketball when he didn’t have it, and sending a variety of defenders his way when he did.

“I thought their defense on him ... they put two guys on him all the time and trapped him all night long,” said Stan Van Gundy after the game. “Didn’t give him looks. I thought their defense had a great deal to do with it and I don’t think we were able to get him enough good looks after the first quarter. Early in the game, he got them and then we weren’t able to get him a lot after that.”

New Orleans came out strong, as they continue to try to climb their way back into the West’s top ten.

Scoring 63 points in the first half, the Pelicans got contributions from the entire roster as they took a nine point lead into the break.

Williamson led the way with 19 points in the first 24 minutes, as the home squad shot a blistering 58 percent from the floor.

It seemed as if New Orleans was on its way to a fourth straight home win. Then youth, carelessness with the basketball, and bad offensive execution found their way back to the Smoothie King Center just in time to hand the Pelicans their 13th loss when holding a lead of 10 points or more.

“We stopped,” said Eric Bledsoe, who finished with 16 points and nine assists. “We got away from what we were doing in the first half: playing our game, moving the ball. I thought we just stopped, like I said, having fun. That first half, we were moving the ball. Everybody was touching it. It stopped, got a little stagnant.”

Stagnant to the tune of just 45 second half points. While Williamson stayed red hot, making nine of his 11 shot attempts, the rest of the team combined to shoot 8-for-29 (3-12 3PA).

Denver got big nights from each of its three best scorers. MVP frontrunner Nikola Jokic had 37 points, six rebounds and nine assists. Michael Porter Jr. (25 points) and Jamal Murray (23 points, 11 assists) provided Jokic with plenty of back up.

They were aided by 15 New Orleans turnovers, which they converted into 23 points.

After calling his team out for being physically beaten last Sunday, Nuggets coach Mike Malone had to be happy watching his team flip the script.

Denver topped the Pelicans in points in the paint (54-46) and second chance points (20-7), areas where the Pels are typically dominant.

In short, the Nuggets played with the composure of a team just months removed from advancing to the Western Conference Finals. They took the Pelicans’ best punch, and then slowly walked their way out of the corner before wearing down a battered, less-experienced foe.

Now, New Orleans has the daunting task of getting off the canvas to face the Dallas Mavericks, who have owned the Pelicans as of late.

The Pelicans will be in the ring, but they’ll have to shake the cobwebs of this latest knock down and be prepared to come out swinging.

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 @DMGrubb.