After leading for the entirety of the fourth quarter, the Pelicans still maintained an 84-78 edge with 4:59 left in regulation. However, New Orleans’ offense only managed to add six more points to their total the rest of the way.
A Devonte’ Graham midrange jumper at the 1:59 mark was the last positive notation.
Jonas Valanciunas had a real chance to send the game into overtime, but he missed a running layup with 0.5 seconds left that would have knotted the score up at 92 apiece.
Closing minutes of tight contests had not been a source of much consternation since Graham’s game-winning jumper against the Jazz on November 26. The Pelicans were riding an 8-4 record in their previous 12 “clutch” games.
But in a game where New Orleans’ outside shot was once again notably absent (6-30 on 3-pointers), not having a go-to scorer like Brandon Ingram certainly played a factor.
The Pelicans are simply a stronger team when B.I. is on the floor with his teammates. They’re 16-20 with him on the season, 2-12 when he’s sat out.
Battle at starting power forward in Pelicans 93-90 loss to Cavaliers— Oleh Kosel (@OlehKosel) February 1, 2022
Graham led the team in scoring with 20 points, but Jaxson Hayes shined brightest for New Orleans, putting together his best all around game of the season.
Hayes finished with 19 points, missing only one of 10 shot attempts, and added seven rebounds and three blocks in a rare start at power forward.
With the Cavaliers featuring two seven-footers in the starting lineup, it turned out to be a smart decision by Willie Green to have Hayes guard Evan Mobley and Valanciunas stay with Jarrett Allen.
“We wanted to match up with their size, with Allen and Mobley, and I thought it looked pretty good,“ Green said in postgame. “Jaxson did a great job of playing with energy, sprinting in transition and getting some buckets. He played great tonight. Unfortunately, we didn’t come up with the win.”
The front runner for the 2022 Rookie of the Year Award was held to four points, making only one field goal — a midrange jumper against Valanciunas.
Hayes’ length bothered Mobley on the perimeter, and his foot speed didn’t allow the rookie to create easy looks for himself off the dribble.
According to Hayes afterwards, he told postgame media that he’s now “way more locked in and just willing to help the team win.”
Since the calendar flipped to January, Hayes is averaging 10.3 points per game on an absurdly good 70.9 FG%. While the efficient scoring has been there for some time now, his defensive effort hasn’t been nearly as consistent within contests as it was tonight.
Josh Hart posted his 11th double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds, and Valanciunas went for 16 points, nine rebounds and four assists.
Herb Jones was held to three points as he missed all seven of his field goal attempts.
None of the reserves hit double figures, with Nickeil Alexander-Walker coming closest (eight points, five assists, three turnovers).
The Cavaliers bench, on the other hand, played really well, accounting for 52 of their 93 points. Brandon Goodwin led Cleveland with 21 points and Kevin Love had 15 points and 11 boards.
At some point, the Pelicans are going to have to start making more 3-pointers. They didn’t connect on their first one tonight until their 13th attempt from Hayes.
In wrapping up the month with a 5-10 record, the Pelicans topped 35 percent from the land of three just five times in January. They produced three wins in those five above average shooting performances. (The average 3-point percentage across the league is 34.9%).
Up next, the Pelicans wrap up their four-games-in-five-nights slate with a matchup tomorrow against the Pistons in Detroit. New Orleans beat this Eastern team 109-93 on Dec. 10.
Here’s to starting February on the right foot.