The Pelicans came in desperate.
Ah, first bucket of the game: Zo-to-Zion alley-oop dunk? Great!
3.5 games back of the visiting San Antonio Spurs for 10th place, a season series tie-breaking game, and what do we get? We get a horrid performance from the free throw line, a heap of turnovers and mixed bag of other miscalculations in a razor close margin loss.
Pelicans 108, San Antonio Spurs 110. Another season without playoffs nearly locked in.
New Orleans made just 17 of 32 freebies and committed 19 turnovers, 12 in the first half, and the Spurs led most of the night. SAS made 27 of their 32 attempts from the free throw line.
But it’s the NBA, and everyone makes a run. Eventually, the game was a toss-up in the final 3 minutes. Good stuff... except for the bad, noted below.
Zion Williamson had 33 points and 14 rebounds, Brandon Ingram had 24, six rebounds, six assists, and Lonzo Ball made six 3s to score 24. DeMar DeRozan had 32 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and clutch makes late in the game, including at the line, where he was perfect in 12 attempts.
Hurtin’ in the Middle
You usually love the guy, but our Kiwi got kicked around tonight, and his mistakes contributed to the Pels’ L.
Steven Adams (four points, 10 rebounds, three steals) met his match in Jakob Poeltl (eight points, seven rebounds, three assists, five blocks), and some usually successful efforts didn’t work out. Adams’ part in a double lane violation, with Ingram at the line, came with just 2:44 remaining, an obvious mistake, even though the Pels would then win the tip at half-court. With just 1:40 left, he was called for another clear-out, this time right as Big Z was driving at the side of the rim for a dunk. Shortly thereafter, another ball coming off Adams’ hands wound up in DeRozan’s seconds before he’d hit a clutch jumper to put the Spurs up 3 with just over a minute.
Poeltl, meanwhile, is just as engaged and intense on that side as Adams at a bigger and more mobile size. He’s an effective roll man and his net numbers have been positive now for every year he’s been in the league. He kick started one of the highlight’s of the night here with a blocked shot:
Of note; when I first started to look into this comparison, I thought I might use the phrase “Poeltl, a younger Steven Adams,” but this is true by only two years. Adams is still just 27, though he’s been in the NBA spotlight that whole time.
Good player, great attitude and leader, bad night.
Who’s Gonna Guard Zion?
Well, first it was Keldon Johnson, who collected three fouls while guarding Zion. Next came Drew Eubanks, who quickly picked up foul trouble, before Popovich moved on down to Luka Samanic. Samanic might be the quickest on his feet, but he’s also the slightest of frame, so Zion had no trouble with the third-stringer, either. For the game, Williamson made 13-of-23 field goals, but was just 7-of-13 from the line. He had two assists and seemed to spend less time as a ball-handler than in more recent games.
Johnson continued his efforts in the second half, doing a better job preventing all-out chaos and too many Zion buckets to overcome. He finished with 14 points, nine rebounds, and four fouls in 34 minutes; Pop’s zones and near-zones and other Zion-based coverages did a better job than his isolation scenarios earlier. And, really, Zion can take anyone, so it’s not as if the Spurs were different from any of the other 28 teams asking a divine source for counsel.
When considering guarding Zion, the problem isn’t “Keldon Johnson.” “Keldon Johnson” is the answer attempting to guard Zion 1-on-1. “Keldon Johnson” can’t exist in the league, because he cannot fulfill his objective on the court. He cannot stop Zion, and therefore, Zion is our only reality. Zion is, for the MCU heads, inevitable.
So, in a way, there is no “Keldon Johnson.”
Meanwhile, early in the game, Zion went over 2,000 career points in his 79th career game. Z got there 10th fastest in NBA history, fighting through injury and the COVID world to do so. Congrats!
The Pels are almost out of playoff contention, but if there were ever a chance to stay within striking distance, it’s in three still upcoming games against the Golden State Warriors. Go 3-0 against them, get some more guys healthy, and things could get verrrrry interesting.