The New Orleans Pelicans entered Madison Square Garden carrying a sparkly 7-1 record in Sunday games this season.
Of course with this fact being mentioned on social media before tip-off must have tempted fate a little too much.
With how unskillfully the Pelicans shot the deep ball against the New York Knicks in today’s matinee — their 6-27 (22.2 3PT%) performance nearly duplicated the average output from the previous six contests — as well as executed poorly in clutch moments again, it was befitting New Orleans added a second L after losing 122-112 in overtime.
With 7.8 seconds remaining in regulation, the Pelicans clung to a 103-100 lead to the surprise of many. In the prior few minutes, New Orleans did everything they could to give the contest away by falling to execute in the clutch with a number of bad turnovers and missed shots. Coming out of the timeout huddle, though, the coaching staff had a winning message to the players. It was simple: Do not give New York a three-point shot attempt.
The Pels gave up a wide open game-tying three to Reggie Bullock, a deadly 39.7 3PT% shooter on the season. Yup. He splashed home the triple and the Knicks proceeded to squash the Pels in OT — but that script wasn’t supposed to be written.
Stan Van Gundy lamented the loss to postgame media more than any other defeat this season because of all the hard work the team exerted to put themselves in position to win. The Pels overcame a 13-point half-time deficit against one of the best defenses in the league and yet two key mental mistakes decided the outcome.
“All you’ve got to do is just execute for 7.8 seconds. You’re just supposed to come out of the timeout, do what we’re supposed to do, and put the game away — and we didn’t do it.”
The Pelicans had orders to foul if the basketball was put on the floor by the Knicks and, of course, not give up the three. Two cardinal sins were committed. Derrick Rose put the ball on the floor — Eric Bledsoe failed to foul him — and Lonzo Ball left Bullock momentarily to help on Rose’s drive which resulted in the painful three-point make.
“On the Reggie Bullock three, I should have fouled D-Rose and sent him to the line” Bledsoe said afterwards. He also said that this message was conveyed to him and the entire team during the timeout, but he lacked the focus to digest the information properly.
Basketball IQ often goes underrated, but this extreme example should have never occurred. Case in point, Van Gundy said, “high school guys could have done what they were supposed to do” in postgame. And the worst part is, the Pelicans went through this type of scenario earlier this season — and did so successfully.
In a February 120-115 win over the Boston Celtics, New Orleans didn’t allow Jayson Tatum to shoot a potential game-tying three in overtime, electing to foul him with 5.2 seconds left. He missed both free throw attempts and the Pels won.
Don’t be surprised if we look back at today’s loss as the one that broke the camel’s back. The Pelicans really played well after a hideous second quarter where they were outscored by 17 points and it felt like they imposed their will stronger overall outside of the final few minutes of regulation.
Zion Williamson (34 points (13-23 FGA), nine rebounds, five assists) rose to the challenge of a toughly officiated game — referees simply allow opponents to get away with more contact on Z than they should — and in guarding Julius Randle (33 points (11-28 FGA), five rebounds, 10 assists). They both were really good.
Before Bledsoe’s meltdown, he was the biggest factor in New Orleans third quarter comeback, scoring 13 of his 22 points. Ball didn’t fair as well offensively, scoring only five points on nine shot attempts.
Steven Adams (10 points, 14 rebounds) deserves praise for his incredible work on the glass in keeping so many possessions alive and Naji Marshall (nine points, three assists, two rebounds) a shout-out for another solid performance off the bench.
The teachable moments never stop with this New Orleans team. And it sure feels like they won’t any time soon. Thankfully, there’s only 15 games left in this regular season.