Antonio Daniels has often mentioned on the Bally Sports telecasts that the New Orleans Pelicans don’t let go of the rope, unlike most teams with losing records.
He’s right, this edition of the Pelicans never quits. The group proved that motto correct once more on Friday night, darn near pulling off the upset before ultimately falling 109-107 to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Earlier in the day, it was announced that Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Steven Adams, Josh Hart and Nickeil Alexander-Walker would all miss the contest. It would have been easy for the rest of the group to mail it in when facing the best in the East while sitting outside of the postseason bubble for far too long this season.
Instead, onlookers witnessed one of the grittiest performances of the year thanks to massive quantities of effort and heart.
In the early goings, it wasn’t apparent that this game would go down to the wire. Without their two biggest scorers in Zion and B.I., the Pelicans tried to win this game from the outside, but jumpers rarely hit the mark. New Orleans combined to make just 2 of 15 shots from 3-point range in the first quarter.
On the other end of the floor, Joel Embiid was feasting on the New Orleans defense, pouring in points from everywhere on the court. However, after trailing 26-17 late in the first frame, a Pelicans center started trading scores with one of the MVP favorites.
Jaxson Hayes was simply incredible. He enjoyed his best game as a pro. The second-year player surpassed his season-high of 17 points in just the first half, totaling 19 points on 12 shots. His energy, though, was emblematic of the entire team.
The Pelicans finished with 12 steals and six blocks. They also grabbed 16 offensive rebounds. The zone defense oft employed by the coaching staff in this game was quite disruptive. The fantastic activity by all kept possessions alive, created easier scoring opportunities and didn’t allow Philly to find a nice comfort zone outside of Embiid.
New Orleans rode that effort to a 37-18 smackdown of Philly in the third quarter to seize a 91-88 lead heading into the final frame.
Following a good backdoor cut for a layup, Lonzo Ball gave New Orleans a 107-104 lead with 1:47 remaining in regulation. Unfortunately, that would be the last time they would score again as late-game execution was to blame.
The Pelicans made just 5 of 24 field goal attempts in the last frame and coughed up five turnovers. On the last play of the game, the Pelicans failed to muster a shot attempt as an errant Eric Bledsoe pass led to a turnover.
Jaxson Hayes finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe each scored 18 points, but on a night when one of them needed to be sharper with their shooting and decision-making, the focus wasn’t there. The starting backcourt combined to make just 13 of 38 shots while producing seven turnovers against seven assists.
In addition to Hayes, Kira Lewis Jr. (13 points, four rebounds, four assists) and Wenyen Gabriel (12 points, five rebounds, three 3s) were very productive off the bench. New Orleans’ bench was responsible for 46 of the 107 points scored.
Joel Embiid led the 76ers with 37 points, 13 rebounds and three treys. Tobias Harris added 17 and Seth Curry had 16 points and hit four 3s.
The Pelicans played with as much intensity as we’ve seen all season and put themselves in such great position to win that one desperately wanted to seem them leave Philly with a victory. But alas, it went down as another L on the overall record.
Coming up just short is an adage no one is going to miss this summer.