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Pelicans destroyed by Knicks from three-point line, lose 116-106

Julius Randle received more help than Zion Williamson

NBA: New York Knicks at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans had their three-game winning streak come to a disappointing end Wednesday night, as they fell to the New York Knicks 116-106.

Zion Williamson filled the box score with 25 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, two blocks, and a steal.

He did stuff like this, too.

Brandon Ingram had a team-high 28 points, with Naji Marshall and Steven Adams combining for 24 points, 19 boards, and seven dimes.

The Pelicans came in short-handed, playing again without Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, or Nickeil Alexander-Walker (and with Eric Bledsoe), but this was at the very least a winnable game. Now, it is a loss that could quite possibly cost New Orleans a spot in the Western Conference’s top ten at season’s end.

Aside from a third quarter that saw the two teams produce 77 points, the Knicks dictated the pace and tone of the game.

Former Pelicans Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton played a large part in that. Randle scored a game-high 32 points, with Payton adding 11 more.

Williamson’s former Duke teammate, RJ Barrett, was held to six points, but Alec Burks more than took up the slack with 21 off the bench.

Burks carried the Knicks down the stretch, scoring 14 of New York’s 23 points in the fourth quarter.

Typically, 23 points wouldn’t be enough to put the Pelicans away in a close game. But New Orleans was held to 17 points over the final 12 minutes, over 10 points less than their season average.

In the final period, the Knicks really put the clamps on the Pelicans one-two punch. Williamson was 1-4 from the floor, while Ingram went 2-7.

“We just stayed to our normal game plan,” said Randle. “We just showed [Zion Williamson] a lot of bodies. They set the low angle pick-and-rolls, so those are kind of tough to go under the screens on him, but we just tried to show as many bodies as we can, limit what he does in transition, and then making it a wall is tough because Brandon Ingram is a huge problem. He does a lot on the court and is able to get to spots and make a lot of tough shots.”

As it had all night, Tom Thibodeau’s defense invited the rest of the Pels to take their chances from long range. Unfortunately for New Orleans, they accepted the invitation, going 0-8 on their three-point attempts in the period.

On the night, the Pels were 6-28 from beyond the arc. It was the 21st time the team made fewer than 10 threes in a game, and its record in those fell to 8-13.

Meanwhile the Knicks made 17 three-pointers, tying their second-highest total of the season, leaving the Pelicans with a 33-point deficit in that area.

“That’s sort of where we’ve been lately. If you go back to the last five or six games, we’ve been getting outscored 24 or 25 points per game on average from the three-point line,” said Stan Van Gundy of the disparity. “That’s hard...really hard. The other thing is that when you’re not making threes, then they’re doing things like at the end where they’d just come and double both Zion (Williamson) and Brandon (Ingram) wherever they were, not worrying about anything else. It’s difficult ... it’s difficult.”

The frustration is unmistakeable and warranted. The causes are not so simple.

The Knicks certainly played their part. New York only allows opponents to make 12 three-pointers per game on 35 percent shooting. This was the second time the Knicks held an opponent to six in a game, and the 16th time a team made less than 10 against the NBA’s third-best defense. New York is 14-2 in those games.

But the Pelicans can’t continue to allow teams to make record-breaking amounts of threes either.

The Pelicans have only held three opponents to fewer than 10 three-pointers in a game, earning a 2-1 record when they manage to do so.

On the other end of the spectrum, New Orleans has given up 15 or more threes 26 times, posting a 6-20 record when foes make that many. They are 19-10 when it’s 14 or less.

So, you’re not wrong if you want to say that the three-pointer is the reason the Pelicans lost to the Knicks on Wednesday night. But on a night when the Pelicans outscored the Knicks by 20 points in the paint, and by nine at the free throw line, they should have been able to collect their fourth straight win.

Instead, the problem, as it has been all season, remains on the defensive side of the ball. Until the Pelicans can effectively rotate and close out on shooters, they will continue to be the ducks in a barrel of the NBA.

Now the Pelicans must go on the road to face a Wizards team that has won four of its last five games, including victories over Golden State and Utah, before facing the Knicks again on Sunday.

And they’ll do that sitting two full games outside of the postseason.

It’s gut check time for the New Orleans Pelicans. It’s cliche’, but it is absolutely time to find out what this team is made of.

Not who Zion Williamson is, or who Kira Lewis is.

Who are the New Orleans Pelicans, and are they going to stand up or bow down?

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.