With 5:50 remaining in regulation, the Pelicans were comfortably in control by a 106-89 margin after Nickeil Alexander-Walker knocked down his third 3-pointer of the night. New Orleans was playing brilliantly after finding their footing in the first quarter; however, the Celtics proceeded to go on a 16-3 run that whittled the lead all the way down to just three points at 110-107.
Sloppy execution, including a couple of turnovers and several missed free throws, hurt as badly as Jayson Tatum, who was in typical All-NBA form. Boston’s superstar scored 12 of his game-high 34 points during that near fatal stretch for New Orleans, but back-to-back positive plays from the Pelicans ensured a victory.
First, Brandon Ingram, who finished with 25 points and nine assists, nailed a big jumper after crossing Tatum up splendidly in creating some space.
Big shot from B.I. on the step back! Pels up by 5 with just over 30 seconds left pic.twitter.com/o03h7t1YgW— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) March 30, 2021
Josh Hart and Zion Williamson then combined forces to come up with a key defensive stop of Tatum and grabbed the important rebound. Seconds later, Marcus Smart displayed Boston’s frustration at the turn of events and picked up a technical foul, getting ejected in the process. The Pelicans went on to make three of five free throws and seal the win.
The Celtics did an admirable job on Williamson in preventing him lanes or too many good looks at the rim — well, when Luke Kornet was not tasked with slowing down the 2021 All-Star, but Zion still finished with 28 points, eight rebounds, three assists and four steals.
Zion Williamson had his 24th consecutive game tonight with 20 pts on 50% shooting, 1 shy of tying Shaquille O'Neal for the longest such streak in the Shot-Clock Era (since 1954-55) h/t @EliasSports pic.twitter.com/5NMjjglhMQ— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 30, 2021
Nickeil Alexander-Walker (17 points, seven rebounds, three threes) and Eric Bledsoe (13 points, five assists, four threes) were excellent in support of Zion and B.I., and after the game, Stan Van Gundy praised Bled’s job of making life difficult for Kemba Walker. With Jaylen Brown out, Boston was heavily dependent on their point guard, but his 23-point total required 18 shot attempts.
In the first half, Josh Hart and Kira Lewis Jr. were unstoppable, combining for 24 points and six threes. The Pelicans were able to gain some separation and take a 64-55 lead into halftime. For the game, Hart finished with a monster double-double of 15 points, 15 rebounds and three assists, and Lewis turned in a line of nine points, three rebounds and four assists.
While this New Orleans core is very young as a whole, let’s take a moment and specifically acknowledge what the 13th pick of the 2020 NBA Draft has done in March.
- 16.2 points
- 3.0 rebounds
- 5.6 assists
- 0.7 turnovers
- 1.8 steals
- 0.5 blocks
- 1.9 threes
- 47.4 FG%
- 37.9 3PT%
- 100 FT%
Those are Kira’s per 36-minute averages across 11 games this month. In 205 actual minutes played, he’s more than proven he belongs in this league — he looks like a future difference-maker.
Remember, this is wildly impressive because of all the additional obstacles created by COVID-19. Lewis entered the NBA without being able to finish out his NCAA schedule, didn’t get a chance to measure up against stronger competition with no summer league games held and wasn’t privileged to a full training camp. To be perfectly honest, both the eye test and numbers seem to be hinting at some star potential considering his age and lack of experience, and it’ll be worth monitoring his growth for the remainder of this season.
For the Pelicans, it was their fourth win in five games and their sixth victory in the last nine contests. New Orleans has played well the majority of time since a bad 30-point loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves and the statistics bear this out.
Since March 12, the Pelicans are fielding the fifth most efficient offense (118.4 offensive rating) and the 13th-best defense (110.3 defensive rating). That +8.1 net rating is the fourth best in the league during this stretch.
While they’ve often shown issues of playing to the level of competition or encountering trouble in clutch minutes, these Pelicans are steadily improving and its beginning to translate in the win column. Hope has burned many of us before, but it’s hard to dismiss the growing list of tangible positives.
I’m not in the prediction business, but my gut tells me that New Orleans is more likely than not to secure a spot in the 2021 Play-In Tournament.