“I don’t believe what I just saw!” — immediately echoed inside my head upon the final buzzer sounding in the Pelicans 140-136 victory over the Timberwolves in overtime.
To be fair, the Los Angeles Dodgers winning Game 1 of the 1988 World Series on the back of a heroic Kirk Gibson home run was a far greater event, one that I certainly will never forget, but watching this New Orleans team mount a 4th quarter comeback and win going away in the extra period was cause for real celebration.
The Pelicans were down by 10 points with 4:22 left in regulation. The entire fourth quarter had been a slog to that point. The Timberwolves were riding a 22-11 scoring advantage and New Orleans had four turnovers to Minny’s none in the frame. But the Pelicans managed to flip the script and send the game to overtime on a Willy Hernangomez putback. Then they proceeded to quickly build a lead that became insurmountable.
It’s probably not a news flash to many, but New Orleans has struggled during clutch minutes all season. They entered tonight’s contest with a 14-19 record in games that were within five points or less during the last five minutes. However, crunch time periods have been especially sobering experiences of late.
During this final stretch of the schedule, when it’s been vital to close out contests well in order to gain ground on the Warriors and Spurs for a play-in bid, the Pelicans were sitting on a five-game losing streak in clutch time.
You remember all of the defeats well: overtime losses to the Wizards and Knicks, and then winnable contests against the Nets, Spurs and Nuggets — all games that the Pels were within two points at some point during the final two minutes of regulation.
So yeah, “I don’t believe what I just saw,” is really apropos regarding Saturday’s positive turn of events against an opponent that was on a four-game winning streak, had a double-digit lead late and were on their home floor — the Pels entered with an 11-19 road record. An improvement in that record didn’t appear in the cards.
The Pelicans made a mess of the latter half of the second quarter and most of the fourth. Prior to the comeback, they were sitting on 20 turnovers. However, if as though a switch was simply thrown entering a room, the Pels played good intelligent basketball during the final 9:22 of the contest, committing just a single turnover.
The biggest factor down that game-deciding stretch was Zion Williamson. His relentless attacks on the rim fouled out Karl-Anthony Towns and Naz Reid. He scored 11 points on perfect shooting from the field (4-4) and the free throw line (3-3).
“He’s a hell of a player, he’s gets downhill and creates a lot of contact,” Chris Finch said in postgame. “Some of it, I thought we did a good job of taking the contact and staying vertical, but obviously he had a great game and we had no answer for him.”
Zion finished the game with 37 points (14-17 FGA), nine rebounds and eight assists, but he was far from the only driving force behind the victory.
Lonzo Ball found his outside shooting touch, tying his career best mark of eight 3-pointers, and established a new career high in scoring. His overall line sparkles like diamonds: 33 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and three steals. He made 8 of 17 from deep and 5 of 6 from the foul line.
“I think whenever we needed a momentum change in our favor, Lonzo was there,” Williamson said in postgame. “Whether it was hitting a 3 or creating just something on a fast break or just defense. Whenever we needed a momentum change, Lonzo was there for us tonight.”
On a night where Brandon Ingram struggled immensely with putting the ball through the hoop (4-17 FGA, 4-8 FTA), Ball’s explosive scoring performance was indeed a timely one.
In addition to Z and Zo, the Pelicans wouldn’t have left Minnesota with a victory without the contributions of Hernangomez. Starting in place of an injured Steven Adams, he finished with a double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds. However, we’ll best remember his defense late on KAT and, of course, the putback that sent the game to overtime.
Eric Bledsoe was headed towards another very indifferent game, but he came alive in the comeback, adding eight points late to finish with 16 points, three rebounds and three assists. It’s a shame we haven’t consistently seen determined efforts from him. He’s shown glimpses like this that he’s capable ... but alas.
Anthony Edwards led the Timberwolves with 29 points and Towns added 28. Reid and D’Angelo Russell each scored 17 points off Minnesota’s bench.
With the Warriors beating the hapless Rockets like a drum tonight (113-87), the Pelicans needed to find a way to win in Minnesota to keep pace. To the disbelief of many, they succeeded.
Who else is eagerly looking forward to Monday when the Pelicans host the Warriors for the first time this season?