The Pelicans fell 115-104 to the Jazz, but it honestly felt as though the outcome might have been very different if only “average” had shown up in several key areas.
Brandon Ingram is a former All-Star in the midst of another fine campaign, averaging close to 23 points per game on solid efficiency. He finished this contest with just 10 points on 3 of 18 shooting.
Josh Hart, one of New Orleans’ leading scorers this season, was sitting on four shot attempts at the start of the fourth quarter.
The Pelicans are making three-pointers at a 34.1% clip per game but sank only 26.1% of their 46 attempts tonight. Conversely, the Jazz shoot the 3-ball at a 36.3% rate and they made 19 of 39 (48.7%).
The Pelicans, the eighth-best free throw shooting team in the league (78.9%), made only 14-22 from the charity stripe.
Donovan Mitchell: Herb Jones is going to be in this league for a long time. Defensively, he's tough. I want to give him his props for that. He makes you work, and he makes you think. He's a hell of a player and he makes life hard for scorers like myself— Tony Jones (@Tjonesonthenba) January 4, 2022
Make no mistake, the Jazz are a very good team. They made the Pelicans pay for leaving their shooters by converting a fair share of good looks from the outside. Following his 29-point, five-assist and five-3 performance against the Pelicans, Donovan Mitchell appears to be a very worthy All-Star starter. He made several incredible buckets even against some very good Herbert Jones’ defense.
However, I can’t help but shake the feeling that Utah didn’t bring their A-game, and had things worked out just a little more typically for New Orleans — along the lines of how the Pels deserved to and did win both coaching challenges in the game, the Jazz could have left SKC with the loss.
What if Jonas Valanciunas, the Pelicans game-high scorer with 25 points, didn’t get into early foul trouble?
What if Josh Hart, who is struggling with his confidence somewhat since returning from an ankle injury — he was 1-4 from the free throw line, this after making 3-9 against the Bucks, sought to break through that wall before the fourth quarter?
What if the second quarter sees Jaxson Hayes catch and finish a golden opportunity for a dunk and Herb Jones doesn’t fumble the ball away a 2-on-1 break?
The Pelicans didn’t play like their usual selves and Willie Green confirmed that notion to postgame media.
“We haven’t been able to practice or prepare like we normally do,” Green said. “I thought, for the most part, we competed. We played hard. We came up short because we were rusty and we’ve got to make shots against this team.”
The Pelicans were trailing the Jazz by just three points after a Nickeil Alexander-Walker drive and hoop to begin the fourth quarter. But as in many instances earlier in the game, New Orleans was never were able to mount that persistent charge because of the weird inconsistencies.
Speaking of the unusual, Green picked up his first technical foul of the season after arguing for a foul call on behalf of one of his players. With 4:12 remaining in the game, Ingram drove into the lane and missed a heavily contested shot against Gobert at the rim. Green felt a whistle should have been blown.
“My point was, I’m going to take up for our team when I think things aren’t fair or things aren’t right,” Green said. “I could be wrong, but it looked like Brandon got fouled. There’s only so much I’m going to sit back and take. That was a situation where I let it be known that I thought he got fouled. That was it.”
Perhaps the most interesting thing to emerge from this game for the Pelicans: Green may have stumbled upon something when opponents go small. When Rudy Gobert sat for his rest breaks and the Jazz didn’t replace him with another traditional 5, the New Orleans head coach countered by bringing in Jaxson Hayes, who is athletic enough to guard several positions.
“His size and his athleticism allow him to be able to switch onto some perimeter players and he does a great job of guarding,” Green said.
Personally, I thought in the moments when the Jazz went small benefitted the Pelicans tonight. They just didn’t make enough shots to keep up with Utah’s scoring.
Up next, the Pelicans will be back inside the Smoothie King Center again tomorrow evening, welcoming the Chris Paul-led Suns.