It wasn’t pretty, but they did enough down the stretch to put a W in the win column.
The New Orleans Pelicans beat the Dallas Mavericks by a final score of 112-103, but the outcome wasn’t a wrap until Nickeil Alexander-Walker splashed home his sixth triple of the night with 1:04 left in regulation.
While no one should ever completely dismiss any type of victory, make no mistake, the Pelicans failed to take advantage of a Mavericks team missing Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis for far too much of this contest, needing to rely on some late-game heroics.
Brandon Ingram or Zion Williamson normally get the ball rolling for New Orleans, but Alexander-Walker grabbed the torch first and ran with it, scoring a quick 11 points to pace the team. After the dust had settled, the two cornerstones joined him in the box score theatrics (nine points apiece), and the Pelicans had a commanding 35-20 first quarter lead.
This rocket-propelled blast off is precisely what you would expect of a good team against an opponent missing their two best players — but these Pelicans are not that reliable squad who can be counted on to handle their business.
Before anyone could get too excited about the action witnessed over the first 12 minutes, the Pelicans crashed hard back to reality, especially after Zion exited for a rest with about seven minutes left in the first half. The offensive execution dried up. The defense morphed into a turnstile.
From the 7:27 mark until halftime, the Mavericks outscored the Pelicans 23-9. Tim Hardaway Jr., in particular, propelled Dallas’ comeback, scoring 13 of his 30 points during that stretch. Oh, and to add insult to injury, the Mavericks kicked off the third quarter on an 8-0 run.
When New Orleans is not in sync and putting forth the requisite effort, they can look like the worst team in the league. No lie. Fortunately, they appeared to escape that path headed for destruction after an early second half Stan Van Gundy timeout.
From the 8:42 mark of the third quarter until the end of the game, the desire to fight was there and the ball started to drop through the hoop again. The problem was that the Mavericks were emotionally engaged because the Pelicans had given them hope. 15 lead changes tell that story well. Besides Hardaway, Jalen Brunson (24 points) and Boban Marjanovic (13 points, 11 rebounds) and Maxi Kleber (13 points, seven rebounds) all made positive impacts.
However, there was no mistaking who the best player was on the floor tonight. 24 hours after scoring a career-high 39 points versus the Nuggets, Zion Williamson posted a line of 38 points, five rebounds, six assists and one block. He was the guiding force in leading the Pelicans to victory throughout the entirety of clutch minutes.
"This is a Shaquille O'Neal type force of nature with a point guard skillset." Mavs coach Rick Carlisle on Zion— Rod Walker (@RodWalkerNola) March 28, 2021
From the time he reentered with 4:54 left in regulation, Williamson initiated every offensive play and scored or assisted on darn near every one of those remaining possessions, but unlike last night, he received help this time round.
Alexander-Walker (20 points, five rebounds) has missed some late-game jumpers that probably would have decided several outcomes — think back to a close loss to the OKC Thunder or last night’s game against the Nuggets, but on this Saturday evening, he made two vitally important threes. Brandon Ingram, who finished with 19 points and four rebounds, also made a couple of important jumpers late.
The Pelicans were able to ride the Zion train to the finish line for a number of reasons, but the two most prominent were the contributions of Kira Lewis Jr. and Eric Bledsoe. Kira was spectacular offensively, hitting a three and finishing four fantastic drives to score a total of 13 points. Defensively, Bledsoe put the clamps on Hardaway Jr. (nine second-half points) and everyone from Stan Van Gundy to Nickeil to Zion praised the much-maligned shooting guard in postgame for his wonderful effort.
“I thought really the whole second half, Eric Bledsoe doing the job he did on Tim Hardaway Jr. was important because Tim killed us in the first half,” New Orleans head coach said. “Bledsoe went on him and just got into him and made it a lot tougher on all of his shots.”
Following the completion of all the action across the league today, the Pelicans moved to within 1.5 games of the Warriors for the final spot in the Play-In Tournament. Up next, the Pelicans will hop on a plane tomorrow headed for Boston where they’ll face the Celtics on Monday night.
Five wins in the last eight games is progress. Six wins in the last nine games would be a step closer to going places. With Zion Williamson seemingly playing as well as anybody in the league right now, these Pelicans feel primed to continue surprising the competition and talking heads alike. I hope we see it.