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Pelicans brought fight but needed greater execution in 108-102 loss to Nets

An opportunity to post a huge short-handed victory fell short

Brooklyn Nets v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

A few different bounces of the ball and they are probably sporting an 18-4 home record.

The short-handed New Orleans Pelicans gave the Brooklyn Nets everything they could handle, before ultimately succumbing by a final score of 108-102.

With 3:13 left in regulation, the Pelicans trailed 98-97 after Trey Murphy had converted an and-one. They had a chance to retake the lead after Kyrie Irving missed a 3-pointer, but emblematic of their inability to consistently make shots from close to the rim all night, the Pelicans missed twice and coughed up a turnover on the following possession.

Royce O’Neal proceeded to knock down a wide open jumper, and soon thereafter, Irving found his missing shooting touch to put the game on ice.

Without Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram in the lineup, the Pelicans needed some combination of multiple players stepping up, being absolutely sound fundamentally as a team and having Brooklyn’s dynamic duo not be on their A game.

Those boxes were all nearly checked off.

While Kevin Durant scored 33 points, and Irving, 19, they combined for 16 makes on 48 field goal attempts. That comes out to a 33.3 field goal percentage. New Orleans’ defenders did about as good of a job as one can hope for, contesting plenty of shots and generally staying in the Nets stars’ airspace.

After a really slow shooting start, CJ McCollum found his stroke and poured in 28 points. He also tallied six rebounds, six assists, two blocks and knocked down four 3-pointers. He did about as well as one can hope for in the vacant Batman role while often being guarded by Ben Simmons.

Naji Marshall was downright stellar. He posted a career-high 23 points, adding nine rebounds, three steals and three 3s. He was particularly great in the first quarter, almost singlehandedly lifting the Pelicans to a 24-14 lead.

Marshall also showed the famous edge he now carries around with him at all times to Simmons.

“Naji was great,” Willie Green said. “He guarded, he attacked early, made shots — all the things that he’s been working on, the things that we talked about even before the game had started.”

Jose Alvarado was incredibly efficient in the first half, scoring 15 of his 17 points. Then the Nets proceeded to physically assault the backup point guard.

Simmons kneed Alvarado towards the end of the third quarter, and later in the fourth, collided into him. Then in the waning seconds of the game, Irving smacked him in the face.

Not once were the Nets ruled at fault.

New Orleans shot more free throws and Brooklyn was whistled for more personal fouls, but the dicey calls never seemed to go in favor of the Pelicans.

For instance, Herb Jones and Durant collided twice and each time the foul went to the defender, Herb. But when a defending Simmons ran into Alvarado’s running path, Jose was called for the infraction.

However, the most troubling aspect of the 64-53 halftime lead quickly inverting was the Nets played with more force and the Pelicans didn’t respond very well in the second half.

For starters, Durant scored eight straight easy points out of halftime. Then in crucial moments, the Nets came up with noticeably more 50/50 balls. Two Nic Claxton offensive rebounds to close out the third quarter particularly stood out to me.

The Pelicans had worked hard to rebuild their lead at 88-80, however, instead of widening the gap further, the opposite occurred as Brooklyn scored five second chance points on those two offensive rebounds.

That was a theme. Although New Orleans finished with more offensive rebounds (14-10), Brooklyn handily won the second chance battle (24-17).

“You give credit to them,” Green said. “They came out in the second half and picked it up. Made more shots. Got a bit more physical with us. I thought it affected our force and pace in the second half.”

The Nets totaled eight steals and 12 blocks. It honestly felt like they should have finished with more on the stat sheet. Claxton gave Valanciunas loads of trouble on the inside, but he did a great job against everyone in the paint. Brooklyn did well as a team in swarming every Pelican who entered the lane.

Case in point, New Orleans finished with a higher 3-point percentage than field goal percentage.

Trey Murphy scored 11 points but only received five shot attempts. I’ve mentioned this before, but the coaching staff needs to figure out how to get Murphy more looks at the basket. He’s simply too good, and right now, the offense needs him when they hit a dry spell.

Expect for Larry Nance to look better in coming games. He not only looked rusty, it didn’t feel like he was operating at 100%. So please, don’t bully him about this performance.

The Pelicans didn’t necessarily let a victory slip through their fingers on Friday, but they could have beaten these Nets that weren’t firing on all cylinders. That’s a shame because now a meeting with the Mavericks looms in less than 24 hours.

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.