Playing without their two leading scorers in Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas — and still pondering when the first minutes of the season will come for Zion Williamson, the Pelicans were always going to be running uphill, through the snow, both ways against the Bucks.
Milwaukee entered Saturday night on a five-game winning streak and had two of their Big 3 in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday in uniform. Not to mention, one has to believe they were fully aware that another loss to New Orleans would have resulted in getting swept in the season series.
Out of the gates, one wasn’t sure this would be a competitive game at all. The Pelicans missed 12 of their first 14 shot attempts, including seven of eight off the mark from 3-point range. However, Milwaukee failed to jump out to a large lead. Then the New Orleans defense began assisting the woeful offense.
Three 1st-quarter steals by Herb Jones led to eight points for the Pelicans. Soon that hustle permeated through the rest of the roster and leading the charge was ... Jaxson Hayes.
Hayes scored 13 of the Pelicans’ 26 bench points in the first half. He and his teammates were able to overcome poor team shooting from everywhere (39.2 FG%, 33.3 3FG%, 50 FT%) by outhustling the Bucks and executing reasonably well (17-7 assist-turnover ratio), limiting the halftime deficit to 64-56.
Unfortunately, the Bucks woke up. Just over three minutes into the third quarter, Milwaukee led 74-61. They never trailed by less than double digits again. The Pelicans hung around for awhile, but the outcome was never truly in doubt.
Jaxson Hayes led the Pelicans with a career-high of 23 points. He also grabbed seven rebounds and tallied one block in what was easily the best game of the season for the third-year player.
Herb Jones stuffed the stat sheet with 14 points, six rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocks. Those three swats set a new franchise record for rookies, breaking Anthony Davis’ old mark.
Herb Jones now with a Pelicans' rookie record with 14 consecutive games with at least one block.— Andrew Lopez (@_Andrew_Lopez) January 2, 2022
Josh Hart nearly registered the first triple-double of his NBA career with 14 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, and Willy Hernangomez adding 11 points and eight rebounds.
Speaking of triple-doubles, Giannis did reach that revered level himself, putting up a monster line of 35 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists. He utterly bullied his way to all parts of the floor anytime he wished and the Pelicans generally looked powerless in stopping the two-time MVP.
Jrue Holiday had 21 points, four rebounds and six assists against his former team and Jordan Nwora had 23 points, four rebounds and five threes off Milwaukee’s bench.
The Pelicans had seven players score in double figures but found no answers for Giannis or the hot-shooting Bucks, who finished with 23 makes on 48 attempts from the 3-point line.
New Orleans, meanwhile, tied their season-high with 16 threes, but it took them 51 shots to get to that total. Their previous high for 3-point attempts in a game this season was 44.
Up next, the Pelicans open a three-game home stand on Monday against the Utah Jazz.