It was a tale of very different defensive halves.
Although the Pelicans scored 57 points in the first half, they allowed the Pistons, who average 102.3 points per game overall — 29th in the league, to tally 65. Detroit shot lights out in those first 24 minutes, posting a 56.8 field goal percentage.
Detroit’s final two possessions right before halftime showed everything you need to know about New Orleans’ lack of focus. Jerami Grant hit back-to-back wide open 3-pointers just 30 seconds apart. Terrible miscommunication was to blame.
The second half, thankfully, was an entirely different story as the Pelicans held the Pistons to just 36 points.
“At halftime, we just had challenge each other to be better,” Willie Green said in postgame. “It’s a back-to-back. It’s always tough on the second night of a back-to-back. Getting Brandon back, so knocking a little rust off offensively for us, defensively for us, but the guys accepted the challenge after halftime and we just came out with a different mentality.”
Although the Pistons jumped out to a 76-61 lead at the 7:38 mark of the third quarter, it was all Pelicans after that. New Orleans outscored Detroit 50-25 the rest of the way, limiting them to a 35.5 FG% and an 8.3 3PT% during the determinative stretch.
The man who got the ball rolling for the Pelicans was Jose Alvarado. The backup point guard changed the momentum of the game, scoring eight points in less than three minutes, including a couple of key 3-pointers. His steal of Kelly Olynyk was just as fun though.
Alvarado finished with 10 points, six assists and a couple of threes in 19 minutes of action. With Devonte’ Graham struggling through a difficult showing, Jose stepped up in timely fashion; however, he was far from the only positive contributor off the bench.
A night after getting outscored 55-22 by Cleveland’s reserves, New Orleans’ bench mob brought a new script to Detroit. They scored 54 points to the Pistons’ 45. Four of New Orleans’ six scorers in double figures came from the reserve unit.
“I thought they just brought a spark to the team,” Green said. “They raised the level of play on both ends of the floor. They just were decisive. They ran our sets. They executed on both ends of the floor. We needed that boost from our bench. Trey came in and gave us great minutes. Jose was great. Billy, Nickeil got it going late in that third quarter. Our bench was important and we needed that lift tonight.”
In addition to Alvarado, Nickeil Alexander-Walker (14 points), Willy Hernangomez (10 points), and Trey Murphy III (12 points) made immense positive impacts.
That’s right, Trey Murphy.
Having not appeared in a game since January 15th — and not made a 3-pointer since late December, no one knew what to expect, especially coming off the Covid protocols list. But seconds after entering in the first half, Murphy showed off that pretty jumper.
Murphy looked assertive all over the floor in finishing with 12 points, five rebounds and a couple of threes.
“I like Trey’s decisiveness,” Green said. “When he caught the ball, it was catch and shoot. He didn’t think. Defensively, he just battled and rebounded the ball. Things that we’ve been asking him to do and he’s getting better and better.”
With about eight minutes left in regulation, the Pelicans were hanging onto the slimmest of leads at 94-93. Then Jonas Valanciunas and Brandon Ingram went to work. The duo combined for 10 of New Orleans’ final 17 points on beautiful actions within the half court set.
Like the Pelicans going into this action off Valanciunas post ups. Ingram slices off, ball goes in. Jones sets the downscreen, Ingram able to pop for a quick one. Always a tough angle to navigate. pic.twitter.com/xA64PGWG65— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) February 2, 2022
When coming off the injury report previously, Ingram needed a game or two to shake off the rust. That wasn’t the case tonight as he finished with a game-high 26 points, adding also three rebounds, four assists and a block/steal.
The Pelicans are now 17-20 in games that B.I. steps onto the floor.
Valanciunas finished with his 34th double-double of the season (13 points, 13 rebounds).
Herb Jones was slowed by foul trouble but still finished with six points, seven rebounds, two assists and one steal. Jaxson Hayes, starting at power forward for a second straight contest, posted an identical line, but with one block instead of a steal. Gary Clark also made a solid impression (five points, three rebounds, one block).
Up next, the Pelicans will receive a much deserved breather after being put through the ringer of six games in nine nights. They’ll return to the floor on Friday in Denver, where they’ll look to avenge a 116-105 loss to the Nuggets exactly one week ago.