No matter who starts or who finishes for this team, the script has been painfully consistent.
The Pelicans fell 125-122 to the Warriors in a game that was missing all the stars. New Orleans put themselves in great position to win after trailing by 18 points at halftime, but they failed to close out the game well after seizing a one-point lead with 2:12 remains in regulation.
One hasn’t been able to argue about the lack of fight to come back from big deficits; however, finishing strong has eluded these Pelicans far too regularly all season.
The New Orleans defense in the first half was atrocious. At halftime, Jordan Poole had 24 points, Mychal Mulder, 20, and Kent Bazemore, 13.
There was no Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson, but Golden State still managed to put 75 points on the scoreboard in the first 24 minutes, riding 11 of 21 makes from the 3-point line.
That tidal wave was evident right out of the gates. Mulder quickly tallied three triples within the first four minutes and the Warriors combined for eight 3-point makes in the first quarter.
The second half, though, was a different story. The Pelicans came back from as many as 19 points down thanks to a strong defensive effort which limited the Warriors to 50 points combined in the final two quarters.
But they couldn’t seal the deal thanks to isolation basketball rearing its head.
After receiving a fortunate bounce off the rim and his 3-pointer dropped that made the score 120-119 in favor of the Pels, Nickeil Alexander-Walker tried to win the game all by himself.
Over the final 2:39 of the fourth quarter, NAW registered seven shot attempts but made only two and failed to get to the free throw line. (New Orleans had 17 second-half free throw attempts before this last stretch.) Naji Marshall was the only other Pel with a single field goal attempt.
As Antonio Daniels correctly noted on the broadcast, there’s nothing easier than guarding opponents who are determined to win going one-on-one. Nickeil is a gifted scorer, one of the best on the Pelicans, but he’s not James Harden.
Alexander-Walker finished with a stellar line of 30 points, five rebounds, four assists, three steals and four triples, though, because he was fantastic prior to the last three minutes.
Marshall posted a double-double with 20 points and 13 rebounds, and Willy Hernangomez nearly matched him with 10 points and nine rebounds.
Off the bench, Jaxson Hayes was outstanding, scoring 19 points and grabbing eight rebounds. Wenyen Gabriel added 14 points, six rebounds and three treys, and Didi Louzada recorded six points on a couple of made threes.
The Warriors were led by Jordan Poole’s 38 points and his backcourt mate, Mychal Mulder, dropped 28 points and seven threes.
With the defeat, New Orleans reached the 40-losses plateau and looks primed to finish with a near identical record to the last campaign because the Los Angeles Lakers lie in wait in the regular-season finale and they’re trying like mad to avoid the play-in tournament.
Finishing the season with a victory and putting the Lakers a step closer to the draft lottery sounds like a fun plan.