A cold shooting night from the new CJ McCollum-Devonte’ Graham backcourt and heady play by Miami veterans helped end the New Orleans winning streak in their first game since acquiring three players from the Portland Trail Blazers.
Down just seven points with about four minutes to go, the Pels sputtered, missed shots, and stumbled home to finish 112-97 losers on the night.
Much of their best play, particularly in the 4th quarter, was thanks to Jose Alvarado using supreme quickness and confidence, as he finished with 17 points in 20 minutes. McCollum had 15 points, seven rebounds, and five assists, but shot just 6 of 21 and 2 of 10 from 3. Multiple shots had fans on the edge of excitement, but misses kept coming. BI had 15 points on just 12 shots. Nola made only 11 of 41 3-pointers and lost the ‘floor game’ getting into foul trouble and committing some bad turnovers. Miami made their free throws and just enough outside shots to supplement their rugged inside and midrange game.
The ‘big 3’ combination of Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, and Kyle Lowry have missed 25, 19, and 12 games respectively, but wow did they make all the winning plays tonight. Butler draws fouls, but you never feel like he’s cheating you into them like others do; Bam just makes incredible shots from 16 feet and in and that’s just the tip of the iceberg for his skills; and Lowry is always gaming the game. It’s about as ‘veteran’ feel a Big 3 could possibly have.
Hi, CJ McCollum
No doubt, tonight was mostly a struggle for CJ on the floor. Onto the next one: hopefully more makes are on the way.
If you squint the right way, the CJ-Ingram combination is relatively similar to the Suns’ two-headed mid-range attack or even the multi-wing-threat Chicago Bulls. CJ very much feels like a 2a or 2b player right alongside Ingram, assuming Z is the A.
In terms of “who should start?” that question can’t be answered without considering the health of Zion Williamson. Why focus on a point guard like Devonte’ Graham, when all these guys can do the dribbling, passing, and shooting: Zion, JV, BI, McCollum, and even Herb Jones as a heady cutter/slasher and developing shooter ... this team, at its potential best, could totally rock that 5 as game starters or finishers. That’s ... super long and super interesting.
Of course, you’ve gotta consider the defense too ... and CJ is one of many offense-first guys, it seems.
Six early first quarter offensive rebounds highlighted some positive work on that side for Nola, and the defense passed a lot of eye tests for various players, but a few untimely calls felt like gut punches at the end of long, competent possessions. Herb and JV picked up a couple fouls early and we knew the bench might be deeper than normal; Jaxson came in at the 5 and held things together to leave the Pels down just three after the first quarter, despite missing a bunch (36.0 FG%, 1-9 3FG).
The second quarter brought a fair amount of destruction from Heat big Bam Adebayo. He bodied up Jaxson on a transition drive, and drew fouls. The guy really moves like a shark out there. Don’t forget, they’ve played without him for 25 games - a run to the 1-seed could be in the making if he’s healthy. JV answered with some of his own offensive and rebounding antics before Herb Jones made multiple highlight defensive plays, including a steal that led directly to a fired up slam dunk. By the half, Herb had picked up another near-no foul, but the home team trailed just 56-55.
Jimmy Butler found ways again and again to make winning plays throughout the third quarter — even after a highlight Ingram-to-JV dunk, it was Jimmy who almost immediately drew a foul. It’s what he does. In other spots, he got up the floor for a dunk and another time he battled for loose balls and found an open Strus in the corner for 3. Graham had some rough moments, and CJ’s attempts couldn’t find the net. Miami went on runs and got up to a nine-point advantage before some positive Jose Alvarado plays. Truly mediocre foul calls continued to fall against the Pels, too, all leading to a 10-point deficit to start the final quarter.
Alvarado owned the fourth in stretches (3 made 3s tonight!), and the Pels used some smaller lineups with both Graham and Alvarado alongside CJ and Herb on the wings. Butler continued to make the right play at the right time, and Bam hit another high-off-the-glass 12 footer - a shot that looks impossible to both defend and make. CJ continued to miss, and Graham got a little chuck-y perhaps, as well, missing consecutive open 3s on the same possession at one point. You always hate to see those. The last 3 minutes was honestly just the Heat choking out the Pelicans last dying breath. That’s how you put teams away and you have to respect it.