There are several pictures of Jonas Valanciunas holding some big fish floating around on the internet. Even Nick Nurse, who once accompanied the 11-year pro on a fishing trip in Lithuania, was quoted as saying, “I have never seen a guy so happy when he was reeling in a fish.”
On Friday evening, the entire Detroit Pistons team was that fish.
The New Orleans Pelicans were able to get past the Pistons by a final score of 116-110 because Valanciunas was an unstoppable force.
The starting center scored 33 points and grabbed 16 rebounds. He made 12 of 15 shots from the field and eight of 10 attempts from the free throw line.
“JV had a monster game tonight, 33 and 16,” Willie Green said. “He just dominated in the post. He dominated the boards. We needed every single point and rebound by him. Just a good road win for us.”
Valanciunas began the game on fire, making six of his first seven attempts for 13 points in the first quarter. His effort helped offset Bojan Bogdanovic’ perfect start of 14 points on six of six shooting.
It became quickly apparent that Nerlens Noel was going to have no luck in deterring Valanciunas. Detroit double teams found no success either. He was in such a great rhythm that he seemingly made something positive happen on every touch.
“They didn’t have a matchup for him tonight,” Trey Murphy said. “Just feeding him and playing off of his gravity was very important. We feed him in the post, they either have to double or it was going to be a bucket.”
Valanciunas has really picked up the slack in the absence of Zion Williamson. In the six games since the young superstar suffered a hamstring injury, Valanciunas has posted averages of 21.0 points and 11.5 rebounds. He’s also made 60.8% of his field goal attempts and 84.8% of his free throw attempts during this stretch.
The offense was carried at different times by CJ McCollum (19 point, nine assists), Naji Marshall (17 points, six rebounds, four assists) and Trey Murphy (19 points, three 3s, two steals) too.
Murphy’s stat line particularly stood out because the coaching staff has asked him to be more selfish with shooting the basketball more often of late.
“He might have passed up one or two that I wanted him to shoot, but he was great,” Green said. “He got out in transition, got some easy ones, got to the basket a few times, but when he’s open, when he has daylight, he knows he has the green light to take catch-and-shoot 3s.”
Murphy made three of his eight attempts from beyond the arc. The Pelicans have a 7-1 record when the second-year sharpshooter attempts eight or more 3s in a game.
New Orleans also received some nice contributions from Dyson Daniels, Jose Alvarado and Larry Nance Jr. They were necessary because this Detroit team played a lot harder than their record indicates.
The Pistons were highly effective, in particular, in the open floor. They totaled 26 fastbreak points, even scoring several transition buckets off of New Orleans’ makes.
“We’re a mentally tough team and we’re resilient,” Green said. “We know we’ve lost some games like that, but tonight we rallied around each other. We did what we needed to do.”
It’s typically not easy to win on the road against any opponent. The Pelicans have done a great job of beating those teams they probably should, however, improving their away record against sub-.500 teams to 7-2.
The Pelicans’ 116-100 victory also marked their 31st consecutive game of scoring 100+ points. That’s the longest active streak in the league.
One more game awaits on this long road trip, a meeting against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Martin Luther King Day. So be sure to remember that we’ll have an earlier tip-off than usual, a 2:00 p.m. start.