A buzzer-beating 3 against the Thunder, a massive comeback against the Raptors, an inbound deflection against Dallas – the Pelicans have found spectacular ways to win games all season. That’s how New Orleans found itself one win out of the playoffs Friday night.Mar 6, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Tyreke Evans (1) passes the ball as Boston Celtics center Tyler Zeller (44) and guard Evan Turner (11) defend during the second quarter at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Friday’s 104-98 loss at home to the Celtics will be the the latest addition to the latter list.
Coming out of a stretch where the Pelicans scratched and clawed their way to a 6-1 record, this loss is possibly the most confusing.
Playing in the cozy confines of the Smoothie King Center, New Orleans was expected to earn an easy win against a team outside of the playoff picture in the pathetic Eastern Conference (For perspective, they are 25-35 and are only 1.5 games out of the 8-seed).
Since the beginning of the season, Boston has traded away any recognizable Celtics in an effort to totally dismantle their roster (read: tanking).
Star PG Rajon Rondo and starting stretch forward Jeff Green were among those moved to other teams. Rondo was the only player remaining from the championship-era Celtics teams.
The game was competitive early, with 10 lead changes and six ties on the way to a 47-47 halftime tie.Mar 6, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) dunks the ball over Boston Celtics center Tyler Zeller (44) during the first quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Those were his first points from a productive 10 pt quarter. By the end of the first half Davis had already stuffed his stat line with 16 pts (8-13 FGs) 7 rebs 2 ast 1 steal 1 blk and a bevy of well-defended shots.
While the game remained tight through three quarters, New Orleans were gracious hosts, turning the ball over at an enormous rate.
The Pelicans turnover problems are becoming so habitual, you might mistake them for a coaching strategy. It takes teaching and talent to regularly double the turnover totals of opponents (a Pelicans past-time).
It was not without effort on Boston’s part. The Celtics played tight defense all night, wearing the Pelicans down til the end.
It seemed to affect New Orleans mentally, as they resolved to uncreative 1-4 ISO sets featuring Tyreke Evans’ wild, driving layups (a play that works much better with a trailing Davis off the pick-and-roll).
That stingy Celtic defense forced the Pelicans into an 0-6 stretch of futility that clocked in at three and a half minutes (5:01-1:32). Good enough for them to edge out at the end of the 3rd 71-68. But the cracks were beginning to form for a Pelicans collapse.
February was the Pelicans’ best month of the season to date. Many of the positive trends from then did not carry into tonight’s game.
Norris Cole, who has been excellent since his acquisition from Miami, has averaged a clean 3.2 assist-to-turnover ratio with New Orleans. Tonight he turned in an ugly 5 turnovers against only 4 assists, to go with an inefficient 4 pts on 2-8 shooting.
Monty might as well have played Jimmer at that point (kidding).Mar 6, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Tyreke Evans (1) shoots the ball over Boston Celtics guard Evan Turner (11) and forward Jae Crowder (99) during the second half at the Smoothie King Center. The Celtics won 104-98. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Tyreke Evans struggled to hold on to the ball as well, coughing up 7 TOs with 5 assists. This was an ugly inversion of his February performance, where he averaged 9.5 assists to only 3 TOs.
Eric Gordon did his best to make up for the sub-par performances of his supporting guards.Coming off a torching-hot February from 3 (53%) Gordon needed to improve his 2-point % dramatically (20%).
Tonight he did just that, scoring 20 points on 3-6 2-point FGs and 4-9 on 3-pointers. Gordon was especially effective off the catch-and-shoot, regularly drilling assisted threes.
Unfortunately none of the guards could slow down Isaiah Thomas. Remember how the game was a tight 71-68 going into the 4th?
Thomas changed all that, exploding for 12 points in under three minutes (3-3 3FG, 3-3 FT). By the end of the night he had 27 points, ripping up the nets with 4-6 3pt shooting.
Davis finished with a game-high 29 points, however he failed to score a point the first ten minutes of the 4th quarter while the Celtics built a double-digit lead. Some of that he had to watch from the bench, after a head-scratching benching by Monty Williams.
Williams waited until the Celtics had as much momentum as possible before taking Davis out and watching the game slide completely out of reach.
The fourth quarter was a complete disaster for the Pelicans and Monty Williams is the only one who can answer for the awful finish.
The team did not run one recognizable offensive set the final 12 minutes, instead opting for those previously mentioned 1-high 4-low Tyreke Evans ISOs. There was hardly a pick or roll to be seen as New Orleans quietly conceded the win to the visiting Celtics.
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Williams inflexibility is a clear sign of his incompetence and misguided short-term effort at consistency. He’s the only coach in the league who has been able to slow down Alexis Ajinca the last six weeks, limiting the rapidly maturing big man to 9 minutes despite going 2-2 for 4 pts with 4 boards (2 offensive) and a block.
Instead Dante Cunningham was awarded almost double the playing time on a night he shot 1-4 and had a -14 plus-minus. Williams admitted his flawed game planning following the loss, “There’s nobody to look at but me. I gotta get the guys in position and have them thinking about what’s about to happen better.”
With a win New Orleans would have held pole position on the race for the 8-seed, thanks to a 3-1 season series tiebreaker vs Oklahoma City. The Phoenix Suns are still in the mix, coming back for an OT victory over the Brooklyn Nets.
Saturday the Memphis Grizzlies visit for an early game. The pressure will be on the Pelicans to hold home court, the second night of a back-to-back. That won’t be easy against a gritty veteran squad that is considered by many to be the championship favorites…..