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Pelicans fail to play best brand of basketball, fall 116-101 to Grizzlies

Memphis was good, but New Orleans didn’t have typical oomph

New Orleans Pelicans v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The deck was stacked against them on this Saturday evening, but that’s just the nature of the beast over the course of an 82-game schedule.

The New Orleans Pelicans failed to bring their A game — or anywhere close to it — and not surprisingly fell 116-101 to the Memphis Grizzlies.

The advanced stats said the Grizzlies are the staunchest team on their home floor in the entire league. The eye test does as well. They’re just a tough, physical group which plays very well defensively, takes advantage of transition opportunities and looks to play smash-mouth basketball in the paint.

“They forced us into some tough shots,” Willie Green said. “We turned the ball over way too much against this team, which fuels their transition opportunities. We had mismatches getting back in transition and it allows them to get offensive rebounds. It was a funky game for us.”

The Pelicans finished with 16 assists against 20 turnovers. Memphis held New Orleans to a season-low 35.2 field goal percentage, outscored them 26-13 in fast break points and dominated the lane with a 74-44 points in the paint advantage.

Zion Williamson faced yet another defensive wall. Dillion Brooks guarded him directly and then Jaren Jackson Jr. and Steven Adams sat in or near the lane in support. They did a great job of collapsing on him on just about every foray into the paint.

After coming off 43- and 36-point games, Williamson had to settle for 20 points. He connected on 6 of 16 shot attempts. However, what really stands out is his assist-to-turnover ratio.

One assist vs a new career-high nine turnovers.

Playing for the third time in four days, the Pelicans looked like a tired group, both mentally and physically. Not having the requisite focus and energy for the second-hardest matchup of the season is a scary proposition.

Williamson was stepping on sidelines, making sloppy passes and mishandling his dribble. There’s no question that Z’s better than he showed, even against a really good-caliber defense.

His teammates also didn’t fare any better for much of the same reasons. Normal rotations or cuts that help alleviate pressure were not as prevalent. The players didn’t adjust as the game went along. Nothing looked sharp. Everything appeared to be a slog.

There were a slew of indicators to my eye, so the individual stat lines were, of course, disappointing.

CJ McCollum couldn’t get anything to drop. He finished with 10 points on 4 of 16 shooting. He also added three assists against six turnovers.

Naji Marshall had a nice run right before halftime, but that included both of his made field goals in 10 attempts for the game.

Jonas Valanciunas made no impact, fouling out in 22 minutes.

“It probably did, but we don’t want to use that as an excuse,” Willie Green said in response to whether his group may have been tired. “Give the Grizzlies their credit. They take care of business on their home floor. I thought they were the more physical team and they were a step ahead of us tonight.”

The Grizzlies were definitely more physical. They were also much faster.

Steven Adams was a monster. He grabbed 21 rebounds. He came up with two steals and two blocks. Williamson rarely got past him. But when he did, there was another Grizzly waiting to steal the ball or block a shot.

Memphis finished with a combined 25 steals and blocks. That’s an astounding figure. The Grizzlies are good, but they’re not that good — as evidenced by their average of 13.2 blocks + steals before tonight.

Ja Morant was the best offensive player on the floor for either team, finishing with 32 points and eight assists.

Herb Jones and any of his perceived struggles deserve a special mention. Jones looked like a player that had missed three games due to the coronavirus. The defensive effort was there, but the touch was missing. He made just 2 of 12 shots. He even airballed a layup.

During the Bally Sports New Orleans broadcast, Antonio Daniels let the audience know that Jones dropped 10 pounds while he was in health and safety protocols.

So, yeah.

Adding to a tough opponent and the Pelicans not being as fresh as they normally are, the game had a very disjointed feel. There were numerous stoppages, but none worse than when the shot and game clock didn’t work for much of the first half. Attempting to correct the issue led to a very long delay.

Like I wrote initially, the Pelicans had to deal with a stacked deck. So it’s probably best to just flush it because this was not the team that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing handle their business in an infinitely more effective manner.

As in other news, Happy New Year, everyone!!

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.