It turns out that Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Herb Jones are incredibly important in trying to beat some of the best competition across the league.
The roster failed to repeat that combined special effort witnessed a few days ago against the Mavericks, but remember, that victory came in front of hometown fans.
Playing without additional inspiration made the Pelicans’ job that much tougher, needing to derive their own momentum in front of a harsh Phoenix crowd that even booed Jose Alvarado during introductions.
Credit the Suns for taking advantage of the short-handed Pelicans, despite losing Deandre Ayton at halftime to a left ankle sprain. They decidedly won the advantage in the paint, outscoring New Orleans by a 60-36 margin.
“They beat us for 60 points in the paint and 18 second chance points,” Willie Green said. “That’s the difference in the game. Those are the things that we usually do, but tonight they were better in those areas than we were.”
It must be noted, though, New Orleans’ starters largely played their counterparts to a draw. The game got away from the Pelicans when multiple players towards the end of the bench were on the floor together.
The Suns raced out to a 10-3 lead but the Pelicans closed the first quarter on a 24-11 run on the strength of 5-11 shooting from 3-point range.
The second quarter was marred by the referee’s whistle. 16 personal fouls were called, with 11 infractions coming against the Pelicans.
All those stoppages of play seemed to really hurt New Orleans’ rhythm as Jose Alvarado and Trey Murphy were forced to sit after picking up three fouls each in the frame.
Trailing by five at halftime, the Pelicans showed good fight to start the third, seizing a 78-75 lead at the 4:46 mark, but then the Suns went on a 14-0 run. It was obvious at that point that Phoenix simply had more firepower and there wasn’t much New Orleans could do to offset the difference.
True to form, the Pelicans failed to mount a significant charge in the fourth.
Jonas Valanciunas led the way with 25 points, adding 10 rebounds and two assists. He handled his business, knocking down 11 of 16 field goal attempts.
Naji Marshall finished with a career-high 21 points, six rebounds and five assists. He also hit 3 of 7 from 3-point range. His play, by far, stood out. That’s now two straight stellar performances for the third-year man out of Xavier University.
“I think his confidence is growing more and more as he gets more minutes, especially with guys being out,” Green said. “I love the fact that when he’s open, he’s taking shots. He’s guarding the best players. It makes our depth that much more important going forward.”
One has to believe that Marshall has probably solidified his role in the regular rotation even if the team ever gets fully healthy.
Trey Murphy had 13 points, five rebounds and two steals, and Jose Alvarado contributed 14 points and three assists. The duo combined to sink 7 of 14 3s — there’s not much more one can ask of them, especially when being saddled with foul trouble.
CJ McCollum struggled from the field again (6 of 19 shooting) but did nearly finish with a double-double (17 points, nine assists).
The Suns were led by Mikal Bridges, who got rolling early and never cooled off. The defensive stalwart totaled 27 points on just 13 field goal attempts, adding four assists and three blocks.
Devin Booker and Cam Johnson each finished with 16 points.
The long-awaited rematch with the team that banished the Pelicans from last season’s playoffs didn’t go according to plan, but everyone should be curious about how they’ll fare in their next meeting if Zion, BI and Herb are available.
Up next, the Pelicans will fly to Los Angeles where they’ll meet the Clippers on Sunday.