Clinching a spot in the play-in tournament is going to have to wait for another day.
The Pelicans were blitzed right out of the gates by the Clippers en route to a 119-100 loss in Los Angeles on Sunday evening.
The Clippers made all eight of their 3-point attempts in the first quarter. While the Pelicans made five and only trailed by six, it was clear that Los Angeles was operating in a much better comfort zone on both sides of the ball.
All of L.A.’s shot attempts came in rhythm after getting New Orleans stuck in defensive rotations. On the other end, the Clippers frustrated the Pelicans by applying a ton of pressure on Brandon Ingram, forcing him to see multiple sets of eyes and switching when appropriate. They also chose to guard Jonas Valanciunas with either Marcus Morris or Nicolas Batum which allowed Ivica Zubac to roam in help coverage like a free safety in football.
This strategy worked like a charm for L.A. throughout the first half. The Clippers brought the more optimal focus, energy and game plan to the table, and they opened up the second quarter on a 19-2 run. The Pelicans wound up getting blasted 29-13 in the frame to trail 66-44 at halftime.
Marcus Morris resembled a sweet-shooting All-Star, finishing the first half with 16 points, while Paul George posted 12 points and seven assists. CJ McCollum had a dozen points to his name, but Ingram entered the locker room with just one make in six attempts from the field.
Although BI got himself going a bit by getting to the free throw line six times in the third quarter, the Pelicans failed to make a dent in the score (26-27). Everything continued to come easier for the Clippers. They also appeared to still be grabbing the majority of 50-50 balls.
In trying to come back from a big deficit, everyone needs to get on the same page quickly and for the team to go on multiple runs. New Orleans failed to manage even one sustained good stretch before the outcome wasn’t in doubt.
New Orleans never quit, cutting their deficit to under 20 points several times for the remainder of the game, but this was after the Pelicans trailed 101-75 at the 9:31 mark of the fourth quarter.
The Clippers walloped the Pelicans in a number of key areas. They scored 36 more points from the 3-point line. They had 11 more assists. They committed five less turnovers. And New Orleans finished with a paltry four steals — a good indicator of their defensive intensity and execution on a night-to-night basis.
“Yeah, they shot the 3-ball extremely well tonight, 21 for 44, and we just didn’t make the game as tough as we needed to,” Willie Green said. “Give the Clippers credit. You can tell they were prepared and they came in and just maybe were half a stepper faster in terms of the force they played with.”
CJ McCollum finished with a team-high 19 points, Ingram had a line of 15 points, eight rebounds and four assists, and Herb Jones added 13 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
Larry Nance had 10 points, eight rebounds, two threes and a block off New Orleans’ bench.
Marcus Morris led the Clippers with 22 points, Ivica Zubac out-dueled Valanciunas to finish with 16 points and 14 rebounds, and Paul George had 15 points, seven assists and hit five threes.
The Pelicans failed to get the season sweep against the Clippers and one more game remains on this road trip. If they can regroup in Sacramento and beat the Kings, they’ll assure themselves of a spot in the play-in tournament.
New Orleans needs to keep winning, however, if the hope is to cement the ninth seed in the West and of hosting that important postseason contest at home.