With the New Orleans Pelicans having won 4 out of their last 5 games coming into the Smoothie King Center last night, Pelicans fans had reason for optimism of a possible “turnaround” for what certainly has been a disappointing 2015-2016 campaign for Pro Basketball in NOLA.
By the time those fans had left the arena, the optimism had been replaced with bewilderment and maybe even a bit of disgust to go with it.
With Anthony Davis suffering a concussion in the first half and trailing by as many as 16 in the third quarter, New Orleans fought hard but came up short as the Houston Rockets defeated the Pelicans, 112-111.
With the loss, New Orleans (16-28) dropped to 11-10 at home. The Pelicans, who entered the game on a three-game winning streak, failed to put together their first four-game winning streak of the season.
Now, the Pelicans sit six games back from the seventh spot (Houston Rockets) and five games back from the eighth spot (Sacramento Kings) in the Western Conference; and barring a long double-digit plus winning streak between now and late March, their Playoff hopes and expectations are quickly fading away.
But it was the way in which they managed to lose this one, that was reflective of the type of season that it’s been for the Pelicans.
Jan 25, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson (33) argues an officials call during the fourth quarter of a game against the Houston Rockets at the Smoothie King Center. The Rockets defeated the Pelicans 112-111. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Davis was forced out of the game near the end of the second quarter after catching an inadvertent elbow in the head from teammate Tyreke Evans. The Pelicans hung in bravely, and made it a game in the 4th quarter.
Down one to begin the fourth quarter, both teams failed to score for nearly the first three minutes.
And after they had trailed by as many as 16 points at one point, Toney Douglas hit a jumper to put the Pelicans up by one, 94-93. The teams, then exchanged baskets over the next several possessions.
With 3:53 remaining, and tied at 102, Jrue Holiday hit a jumper to give the Pelicans a 104-102 advantage. Following a timeout with 3:50 to play, Harden responded with a basket, tying the game at 104.
Holiday and James Harden went “notch-for-notch” for their respective teams offensively down the stretch.
After Holiday hit a pair of free throws to give the Pelicans a 109-107 lead, Patrick Beverley hit a three pointer to give the Rockets a 110-109 advantage. Then, despite great defense from Holiday, Harden hit a jumper with 34.2 seconds left to put Houston up by three.
Holiday responded with a layup to bring the Pelicans within one but missed the final shot of the game after being double teamed on an inbound play, sealing the victory for the Rockets.
After the game, Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry said that it was because of the Pelicans having already used up all of their timeouts prior to that 4th quarter stretch, that led to the Pelicans’ ultimate demise.
“That’s the tough part about it. We needed one timeout to try to get a little bit organized, but we had to use two (timeouts) early on and that kind of cost us. At the end of the day, I thought we played as hard as we possibly could. Had a couple of breaks where we just didn’t get it in the basket. We’re right there. You just have to give them credit. They made big shots when they had to. (James) Harden’s (shot) was big. When they needed that big basket, they got it from their star player.”
Now of course there’s a few ways that one can look at Gentry’s statement, and fairly or unfairly it could be said that Gentry’s role and responsibilities as the head coach are to ensure that the team is prepared for such situations — and place the blame squarely on him.
Jan 25, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry during the fourth quarter of a game against the Houston Rockets at the Smoothie King Center. The Rockets defeated the Pelicans 112-111. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
However, as the “feeling out” process between the coach and the roster of his players that he inherited from his predecessor (Monty Williams) continue now some 44 games into the regular season, extenuating circumstances such as Davis’ untimely injury that only added to the list of injuries which have depleted the roster of some of its biggest contributors, are clearly beyond his control.
For himself, the Pelicans franchise, and the Pelicans fans; it’s simply a microcosm of the fluke-like problems that have seemingly plagued this year’s team right out of the gate.
One positive aspect to at least takeaway from the loss is how hard that the team valiantly fought until the end.
Holiday led the Pelicans in scoring with 32 points off 13-of-21 shooting from the field, six rebounds and nine assists. Holiday set a new season-high with his 32-point performance.
Ryan Anderson finished with 22 points and nine rebounds, followed by Toney Douglas with 18 points. Douglas also set a new season-high for points with his performance.
But ultimately, it was the fundamentals in the end that killed New Orleans. Besides the issue of not having any time-outs left at the end, it was poor shooting that doomed the Pelicans long before that final 4th quarter stretch ever began.
The Pelicans shot 46 percent off 42-of-91 shooting from the field, 45 percent (13-of-29) from three-point range and a dismal 56 percent (14-of-25) from the free throw line, an inexcusable number for any NBA team.
New Orleans did manage however to outrebound Houston, 50-38; and the Pelicans’ bench combined for 79 of 111 points scored. The Pelicans finished with 23 assists (New Orleans is undefeated when it finishes with 25 or more assists in a game).
Yet, it still wasn’t enough to overcome the obstacles that have besieged this team since before the season even started, when it mattered the most.
Jan 25, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) shoots over New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) during the fourth quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Rockets defeated the Pelicans 112-111. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
And today and for the remainder of the season, it will be “the ones that got away” such as this one, that will make it so hard to accept for a team and a fan-base that had great expectations coming in to the start of the 2015-2016 campaign.
Without question, it was reflective of the way things have gone in what will eventually turn out to be a very forgettable season for the sport of Pro Basketball, in NOLA.
New Orleans returns to action on Thursday night, as the Pelicans take on the Sacramento Kings at 7 p.m. at the Smoothie King Center…..