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Pelicans’ identity stands front and center in 113-111 victory over Mavericks

New Orleans was missing arguably their three most important players. They still found a way to prevail over Luka Doncic.

Dallas Mavericks v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Missing two All-Stars and an All-NBA caliber defender, the New Orleans Pelicans knew they needed to muster something special against the Dallas Mavericks in order to emerge with the win.

That’s precisely from where the Pelicans derived their inspiration in eventually knocking off the Mavericks by a final score of 113-111.

“I was listening to a message on my way home from shootaround,” Willie Green said. “The teacher talked about obstacles versus opportunities. I thought it fit perfectly for tonight’s game. That was my message to the team. We don’t want to be an obstacle team. We want to see this as an opportunity for playing time, for individuals who haven’t played much, but also collectively for us as a group to go out and win.”

The nine Pelicans who saw game action made the most of their opportunities. Eight scored in double figures and their combined effort offset big nights from Luka Doncic (37 points), Spencer Dinwiddie (24 points) and Christian Wood (23 points).

New Orleans’ solidarity was evident right from the start.

Despite fielding three new starters, the amount of rhythm on offense was sublime. The Pelicans jumped out to a 29-15 lead and Jose Alvarado was the table-setter. He scored nine of his 13 points quickly, displaying sheer artistry on all drives to the rim.

A little more than seven minutes into the game, only CJ McCollum had recorded a missed field goal. Everyone else was still perfect.

That largely remained the theme for the rest of the night.

While CJ McCollum struggled to put the ball through the hoop on 6 of 20 shooting, his teammates didn’t, combining for a staggering 67.9 field goal percentage.

McCollum did contribute greatly in other areas though. His playmaking shined with 11 assists. He also took an important charge late in the game, prompting his head coach to run out onto the floor and help pick his star up off the ground.

“We felt like we should have won that Utah game,” McCollum said. “We let one slip away. They got a lead, we had to fight back and then we didn’t execute. I got scored on for the game-winner. I think it stuck with all of us. You have a chance to be 3-0, come back for game 4 at the crib, and we kind of had a letdown. We wanted to make sure, win, lose or draw, we got off to a good start.”

The Pelicans punched first and continued to throw jabs at a Mavericks squad that likes to do the same to their opponents. Their lead was 40-31 after 12 minutes, though, Luka’s brilliance could not be denied for long. His 22-point first-half effort aided in whittling down the Pelicans’ lead to just two at halftime.

At the end of three quarters, Doncic was standing on 33 points; however, he soon appeared to run out of gas. All those minutes fighting against Naji Marshall, Dyson Daniels and numerous New Orleans help defenders had taken its toll.

In the fourth, Doncic failed to shoot a single free throw. He had only one assist. He also missed all four of his 3-point attempts, including one at the final buzzer which would have been the game-winner.

“Our plan was to try and wear Luka Doncic down as much as we could,” Green said. “He’s a great player. You can look at his numbers night in and night out, this is what he does, but hopefully we wear him down enough that in the fourth quarter some of those shots start to miss. A lot of prayers on that last one, because from our angle, it looked good. But thank God he didn’t make it.”

Marshall drew the first assignment on Doncic. While he didn’t go on to post any defensive highlights, Naji stayed attached to Luka, making sure the superstar felt him. Just as impressively, Marshall dished out some punishment on the other end of the floor.

Marshall scored 15 points on an efficient 6 of 9 shooting from the field, consistently attacking the rim on drives and cuts. He’s yet to sink a 3-pointer this season, but tonight marked his second consecutive night in getting to the free throw line a total of four times.

If Naji can continue to make opponents work hard while being effective in the lane, he’ll be a valuable weapon for Green.

Speaking of weaponry, Doncic probably doesn’t want to see the Pelicans rookie any time soon. Daniels’ defense absolutely shrouded Luka like a cloak at times. It’s rare to see anyone be able to handle Doncic one-on-one, but Daniels looked like vintage ... Herb Jones.

“He and Herb have sort of that same demeanor,” Green said. “They’re tough. They’re quiet. But there’s an inner strength. HIs approach every day is the same. He comes in early, he gets his work in, and he doesn’t back down. And I think we saw a little bit of that tonight.”

In his first real regular season minutes of his NBA career, Daniels displayed all the characteristics that enticed the Pelicans to make him the eighth selection of the 2022 NBA draft. He filled up the box score in 22 minutes of action with 11 points, three rebounds, two assists, three steals and one block.

While many will remember this performance by Daniels, the game ball went to a more deserving teammate. Few worked harder than Trey Murphy over the summer and the results glittered against the Mavericks. In just the second start of his professional career, the second-year man was flawless.


None of Murphy’s 3s bounced through the rim — they all splashed through the heart of the net. Additionally, his drives to the rim were exquisite and the transformation in this part of his game is nothing short of incredible.

Last season, Murphy showed a real unwillingness to put the ball on the floor. Now he’s doing it every time he’s crowded on the perimeter and doesn’t have an obvious passing lane for a score.

The 2023 Most Improved Player Award remains a definite possibility.

Devonte’ Graham (14 points, three assists), Larry Nance Jr. (11 points, two rebounds) and Jonas Valanciunas (13 points, seven rebounds) also played instrumental roles in the victory.

“We don’t want to survive, and I know what you mean, but at the same time, we’re a team that thrives and relishes these opportunities in these moments when we’re down a few guys,” Green said. “We just like to go after it. No matter what happens, we leave it out on the floor and we did that tonight.”

They did indeed, coach. Bravo.

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