A decisive victory didn’t appear in the cards at the outset.
With close to a minute left in the first quarter, the Pelicans had a 29-26 lead. But then a near three-minute spurt that stretched into the second quarter swung the momentum to New Orleans for the remainder of the contest.
New Orleans came up with steals on four consecutive Portland possessions during this span and most were not of the finger-tip deflection variety. Trey Murphy’s theft, for instance, was one where he just snatched the ball away from Keon Johnson trying to bring the ball up the court.
It felt as though the Pelicans had decided enough was enough — time to go snare this victory away from an inferior opponent.
As further evidence, the team consistently started producing fireworks on the other end. Murphy hit several 3-pointers in the second quarter, Jaxson Hayes had a monster dunk, and Herb Jones came up with this incredible block which he manufactured into two points.
Herb Jones ALL OVER the court pic.twitter.com/dEMdxJwuML— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) April 8, 2022
Did you notice from how far away Jones came to reject Johnson’s 3-pointer???
For the rest of the game, the Pelicans continued to add to their lead. At halftime, the score was 65-52. At the end of the third quarter, it stood 101-76.
In addition to finishing with 33 more points than the Trail Blazers, the Pelicans tallied 23 offensive rebounds and 15 steals.
“We wanted to be active on our defense, making sure we put our hands in the pocket pass and try to cause havoc with deflections and steals,” Willie Green said. “This triggers our offensive ability to get out and play in open court. I thought our guys did a really good job.”
Yeah, the Pelicans didn’t play with their food tonight.
CJ McCollum and Jonas Valanciunas got the Pelicans going offensively, combining for 19 of New Orleans’ 33 first-quarter points. McCollum rode a hot 3-point stroke to 23 points, adding four rebounds, seven assists and three steals, meanwhile Valanciunas finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.
It was particularly good to see JV not pushed hard due to recent soreness in his right ankle as he appeared in only 21:46 of the game clock.
Jones had 13 points, eight rebounds and three assists, Hayes, 11 points and three rebounds, and Devonte’ Graham, who started in place of Brandon Ingram, had six points, five assists and two steals.
The starters were quite good, but don’t overlook the production of New Orleans’ bench. All the regulars shined. Hernangomez had a double-double (17 points, 14 rebounds) and Jose Alvarado had a line of seven points, nine assists and four steals. Murphy and Larry Nance Jr. each scored 12 points.
In a special moment at the 2:17 mark of the first quarter, the Trail Blazers took a timeout and the Pelicans proceeded to pay tribute to the New Orleans’ careers of Josh Hart and Didi Louzada.
Welcome back to New Orleans, Josh Hart pic.twitter.com/lVbRtV4KSR— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) April 8, 2022
Hart received a standing ovation. His smile alone indicated his level of appreciation for the love from his former hometown crowd.
In an interesting trivia twist, Louzada, who failed to score in his lone SKC appearance last season, hit a couple of 3-pointers in tonight’s first quarter. He totaled 11 points for the game.
The Pelicans took care of business. They needed to with the San Antonio Spurs nipping on their heels for the ninth seed in the West, who at the time of this writing appear headed to a loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Two more regular season games remain, with a matchup in Memphis against the Grizzlies on Saturday and then the Warriors on Sunday.