No Durant, No Harden, No Problem?
Not so much for the Pelicans tonight, as the home team lost a fun 134-129 contest to the Kyrie Irving-led Brooklyn Nets. Irving had 32 points and eight assists, hitting three clutch shots and some free throws in the last couple minutes to keep them ahead of Zion’s krewe. The Pelicans keep getting closer and closer to missing out on the top 10 seeds in the West.
KYRIE COOKING LONZO— The Ball Talk (@theballtalk1) April 21, 2021
As the game neared its conclusion, an incredible layup finish by Irving among the trees put the Nets up 5 with little time remaining. The Pelicans would answer, of course, with a missed Naji Marshall 3, offensive rebound by Brandon Ingram, and kick-out to Kira Lewis. His third made 3 on the night to make it a 2-point Nets advantage with 12.7 seconds left.
The Pels and Nets played the foul game a few times to finish the game with New Orleans down 3 with the ball and only 4.8 seconds left. Steven Adams threw an incredible baseball pass to Zion 50+ feet away, where he dribbled to his left as he gathered his feet to potentially attempt a game-winning 3. Instead, Kyrie bothered Zion who fumbled the ball out of bounds.
Our guy Zion was amazing tonight (note: on offense; there are many a struggling moment on D), but Kyrie won the game.
Zion Williamson was terrific, particularly late in the back-and-forth with Kyrie, finishing with 33 points (14-19 FG, 5-6 FT), seven rebounds, and four assists. Much of his work was done against a heavily-guarded paint, making his achievements all the more impressive. He went through Blake Griffin’s shoulder, up and around Jeff Green, and above Bruce Brown in his new shoes. And check ‘em out here as he floated through the sky for this up and under.
Zion with the 3-point play! pic.twitter.com/wL7yoEUImC— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) April 21, 2021
Ingram added 27 points, four rebounds, and five assists - his time spent initiating offense as a ball-handler has increased out of need lately, to mixed results. Tonight his midrange game was on and he totaled only two turnovers, but I’d argue his floor balance awareness and vision can still improve. I give Ingram the benefit of the doubt on defense, but I won’t even post the video of one of his Harden-esque brain failure defensive possessions LATE in the game, but it was bad.
Zion was just one of many in the first half, as minutes totals were spread across 10 players. The only two players to spend less than 17 minutes on the floor were Jaxson Hayes (perhaps still recovering from injury) and Eric Bledsoe. Naji Marshall played 34:50, made 2-of-8 threes (most attempts on the team), and dished a team-high seven assists. There’s something pleasing to the eye when he can break down a defender and spot an open target; but would anyone expect Naji Marshall to have attempted the most 3s on the team in a close game?
Forcing Ingram to shoot more 3s is like cornering a dog - he doesn’t wanna go there; injuries and the JJ/Melli trade have ruled out other options; Lonzo and Bledsoe get ‘em up, for better or for worse.
Of course, tonight, the Pelicans got off to a scorching start, making 8 of their first 9 shots, including three early 3s. By the half, though, Nola was 5-of-16 from 3 as the game tightened up. About halfway through the third, the Nets went on a run to extend their lead to as much as 12 thanks to Joe Harris, Bruce Brown and Landry Shamet.
This was perhaps the lowest moment of the game for Pels players:
Or maybe it was this:
With little time remaining, an extended winning streak seems unlikely, particularly against talented and desperate Western Conference teams, meaning this team may miss the postseason again. That effort starts Thursday against Orlando.