All eyes were on the Pelicans and the Cavaliers last night on ESPN. The Cavs were coming in atop the Eastern Conference, and many expected them to roll right over the underperforming Pelicans with relative ease. But something strange happened instead: The Pelicans came out on top.
In front of a sellout crowd in the Smoothie King Center and millions of people watching at home, the Pels were able to take down one of the NBA’s best teams in overtime.
Despite their struggles so far this season this is actually the second time they have done so, first taking down the San Antonio Spurs on November 20th and now taking care of business against the Cavs.
If they can beat teams like that, why can’t they pull out victories against the likes of the Orlando Magic, the Utah Jazz or the Denver Nuggets?
Because playing against the league’s best lights a fire in each and every player on the Pelicans roster.
Dec 4, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) is guarded by New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) during the second half of a game at the Smoothie King Center.The Pelicans defeated the Cavaliers 114-108 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Last night, we did not see Anthony Davis put up monster stats while the rest of the team struggled.
Yes, he did put up 31 points and 12 rebounds, but he had plenty of backup.
Everyone from Eric Gordon to Tyreke Evans to Omer Asik to Ryan Anderson to Jrue Holiday to even Dante Cunningham made their presence felt in a huge way last night.
When everyone is clicking, it is so much easier to build up some momentum and go on a run. The Pelicans were able to rip off big runs in all stages of the game last night, something that they were also able to do against the Spurs.
Things were not looking good in the first quarter with the Cavs up 13-4 only minutes in. Some free throws from Davis, an and-one from Evans and a jump shot from Alonzo Gee immediately got the Pels right back within three.
Despite a ridiculous five three pointers from J.R. Smith in the first quarter, the Pelicans were able to keep things close.
To beat the best teams in any sport, you have to stay in the game long enough to find an opportunity to pull away.
When that opportunity arise, you have to be quick to the point and take advantage. In the third quarter, the Pelicans did just that.
Eric Gordon scored 10 points in the third and Davis was right behind him with 8, but like I mentioned before, almost everybody played a part in the Pelicans being able to pull ahead and win the quarter 32-24.
The Cavs had a chance to pull away, but they were not able to knock down the open looks that could have broke things open. But, the Pels held up their end of the bargain and took advantage of these misses.
One possession where they gave up a few offensive rebounds notwithstanding, Davis, Asik and Cunningham were able to clean up the glass and get the ball right back out in transition.
Dec 4, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Eric Gordon (10) shoots over Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) during the second half of a game at the Smoothie King Center.The Pelicans defeated the Cavaliers 114-108 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Gordon got red hot in the following minutes, igniting a massive 20-6 run with a couple of clean pull up jump shots and a very difficult runner in the paint. He had been struggling over the last few games, shooting only 29% from the field in the last three.
But Gordon has come up big time and time again for this Pels team. He was red hot against the Warriors in the playoffs, averaging 19 points with a 40% clip from deep.
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Not many games have meant as much this season, but if Gordon can build off of an extremely productive night like this, he can easily carry a massive load for this offense.
It is important to note that Gordon started along side Evans tonight in the back court, with Holiday moving to the bench for the first time all season.
The move was reportedly made for Holiday, who wants to play his limited minutes in succession rather than have them staggered, but it could give a nice boost for Gordon, who has voiced his desire to start many times in the past.
Asik and Cunningham will never fill up the box score like Davis and Evans can, but what they bring to the table may never be more apparent than it was last night.
Dec 4, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) drives past New Orleans Pelicans center Omer Asik (3) and forward Anthony Davis (23) during the second half of a game at the Smoothie King Center.The Pelicans defeated the Cavaliers 114-108 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Omer defended the rim brilliantly last night, altering shots from LeBron and Kevin Love during that big run and for the entire course of the game. He has gotten so much flak to start this season, most of it surrounding the big contract that he signed in the offseason. But I think people have failed to realize that he just was not healthy.
I know health cannot be an excuse for everyone, but Asik deserves the benefit of the doubt just as much as any other player does. And quite frankly, he has not received it.
But what is great about Asik is he does not care what you think. He is going to go out there, assert himself in the paint, and do his job to help get this team the ‘W’. In the end, that is all that matters.
Dante Cunningham does all of the little things for the Pelicans, and has done so since arriving in New Orleans. Last night, all he did was shut down one of the best NBA superstars of all-time:
LeBron was so dominant last night, especially in his 21-point fourth quarter, that it was easy to assume he was just having his way against everyone. But upon watching that game tape, you will see that Cunningham gave LeBron no room to breathe.
This matchup was critical not only because LeBron is the best player on the Cavs, but because nobody else on the Pelicans matches up better with James than Cunningham, especially with Quincy Pondexter still out of commission.
Almost every shot was defended exquisitely, and that energy kept the Pels in the game.
Dec 4, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) is defended by New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) during overtime of a game at the Smoothie King Center.The Pelicans defeated the Cavaliers 114-108 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Cunningham just seems like he always knows where to be. One play from the third quarter stands out to me in particular. Holiday penetrated the paint and had Davis coming over from the corner.
At this moment, Cunningham cut from the three point line, Jrue hit him instead, and Dante almost immediately hit a wide open Davis under the basket for an easy dunk.
The Pelicans offense rarely shows signs of knowing what is coming more than one pass into the future. Cunningham is not a prolific playmaker by any means, but having a sense of simply knowing where to be and where to go at all times brings value in and of itself.
The biggest moment of the game came during the final possession of regulation. The Pelicans were down three thanks to LeBron’s dominance in the fourth, and they had one shot to make something happen.
The play drawn up out of the timeout was for Ryan Anderson. It was sniffed out and shut down by the Cavs. So instead, this happened:
Holiday pulled up without hesitation and reinvigorated this Pelicans team, who went on to dominate the overtime period. When the game was on the line and the shot mattered most, the Pelicans don’t have to go to their man Anthony Davis.
Not because they don’t trust him, but because they have just as much trust in guys like Holiday, Anderson, Gordon and Evans to get the job done.
And sure, it looks bad sometimes if the Pelicans lose and the game was not in Davis’ hands, but that fire and determination that we have seen time and time again from Davis resonates in each of these core guys.
Dec 4, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) dunks against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the fourth quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center.The Pelicans defeated the Cavaliers 114-108 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
That is what sets this team apart.
Davis is the guy, but not one that needs to bear all of the load. When the Pelicans have all of their weapons on the floor, everyone is not only capable of taking and making the big shot, but they want to be the ones to go it.
For years, this team has had the talent to match up against anyone in the league.
Injuries have prevented us from seeing the culmination of this talent for more than a few games at a time. But now that the core of this Pelicans roster was finally able to take the floor together, their collective fire may have finally been lit.
If that’s the case, the best teams in the NBA need to watch out.
Because these birds from New Orleans are finally ready to play…..