Never underestimate the effect momentum has on a game. Last night during the first quarter, all of the momentum appeared to be on the side of the New Orleans Pelicans in their game against the Boston Celtics — but as it turned out, it was only for a fleeting moment.
The first quarter certainly showed some positive signs. Anthony Davis started the game by hitting two straight contested jumpers, and scoring the Pelican’s first six points.
Last season, AD averaged 31.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists vs. the Celtics and had his historic 40 point 20 rebound game against them the season before. It looked like he was about to put together another seven minute highlight video tonight, until he picked up two quick successive fouls and was pulled from the game.
Still, the game was competitive. Neither team played well enough to string together successive potent offensive possessions, though both teams looked competent defensively.
First quarter score: 25-25
The second quarter started with AD still in the bench, but the Pelicans remained competitive. With just about four minutes left, the Celtics went on a huge run and outscored the Pelicans 13-4.
Dec 7, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots over New Orleans Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson (33) during the second quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
The surge was lead by Isaiah Thomas, who would end the game with 22 points, 5 assists and a steal in 30 minutes on 9/13 shooting and 4/4 from deep.
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The Pelicans subbed Cole and Gordon out at times in favor of Jrue (6’4″ and Tyreke 6’6″) to try and take advantage of Isaiah Thomas’ 5’8″ frame. Instead, Thomas went off and was too quick and crafty to be held down by them.
I’m not quite sure how you defend against Thomas going 4/4 form deep. Maybe you hedge a little harder, maybe you double team, or maybe you try a gimmicky zone defense to try to confuse him.
Still, all of those tactics come at a price, and at some point you just have to accept when an opposing player is going to put your team to sleep.
A few minutes into the third quarter the Celtics were up by almost twenty, and had an attitude and confidence about them that comes with 13-4 runs and 4/4 from three heat checks.
The Pelicans hadn’t changed anything schematic or strategic, they just didn’t have the same spunk the Celtics did.
Dec 7, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Tyreke Evans (1) is defended by Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) during the first quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Anthony Davis struggled too. Maybe those first few effortless jumpers did more bad than good for him, since he seemed to favor an easy pull-up over trying to bait his man and get a drive to the rim.
At about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter the Pelicans brought it within ten. Then the Celtics started hitting rhythm threes and making gorgeously coordinated hustle/transition plays that put the game out of reach (they shot 12/28 from deep: 42.9%).
The Celtics are by no means a bad team, but there’s something disorienting about surviving an incredible fourth quarter surge from LeBron James and then get killed by Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder the following game.
Still, this is a team that managed to lose to the Kings, Sixers, Nuggets, and Knicks last season while beating the Warriors, Spurs, Grizzlies and Thunder. We’ve seen heat-check players before, maybe the Pelicans are simply a heat-check team.
It seems like Anthony Davis either has 31-15 games, or he has 16-6 games. It seems like Eric Gordon either hits 5/7 threes, or he hits 1/4. It seems like the Pelicans either run up huge leads on good teams, or they struggle to buy a bucket against the Orlando Magic.
Still, the Pelicans have basically been a .500 team since their initially terrible 0-11 start.
Dec 4, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) and head coach Alvin Gentry talk during the second quarter of a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
The fact remains that they are only 4 or so games out of the 8th seed, and really only need to keep up this pace for the rest of the season and at some point have one 3-4 game winning streak.
That might be enough.
Within the apparently weaker Western Conference, the Pelicans will probably be able to survive just fine by playing this brand of basketball for 90% of the season and have 10% of that be one particularly “heat-check” filled period in which they rattle off three or four straight.
Still, there’s nothing more frustrating than losing a game you know you’re supposed to win.
Then again, with our injuries, chemistry issues, and apparent lack of consistency —- I’m not sure how many wins we can actually expect…..