If you turned to the Pelicans to try and brighten up your basketball life after watching yet another NCAA Tournament bracket crumble before your eyes, it did not work. In fact, it likely made things much worse.
The Pelicans, having trailed by 20 at one point in the third quarter, entered the fourth down 12.
The 93-81 score heading into that final frame indicates just how little defense was being played in the Smoothie King Center tonight.
Though the defense was certainly lacking, credit must be given to the explosive Portland backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
They combined for a whopping 63 points, and they were well earned.
I was not confident that McCollum would sustain his early season success, but he has proven me wrong and has established himself as a very capable number two option on this playoff bound Portland team.
Mar 18, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Tim Frazier (2) shoots over Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) during the fourth quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Trail Blazers defeated the Pelicans 117-112. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Despite the red hot shooting of their guards, the Blazers offense went silent. They managed only 8 points in the first 6 minutes of the quarter, and some opportune shot making from Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson, and new Pelican (and former Trail Blazer) Tim Frazier cut the double digit deficit to 3.
The Smoothie King Center was rocking at this point, all with star forward Anthony Davis in the locker room. Davis did not hit the deck or anything of the sort, but he did not come back to the bench after halftime. The good news is that the injury does not appear to be anything serious:
Gentry is not expecting bad news, which is a good sign. But even for a young fan like me, Anthony Davis’ injury scares are starting to take their toll. The worst thing he and the team needs is a long term injury. For now, crisis averted.
Despite being Davis-less, the Pelicans now had all of the momentum and the game was within one possession. With few other options to turn to, the Pelicans offense continued to lean on Holiday and Anderson.
Mar 18, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson (33) dunks against the Portland Trail Blazers during the second half of a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Trail Blazers defeated the Pelicans 117-112. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
There are a ton of high-quality point guards in the NBA, and Holiday continues to show that he is right up there with the best of them. He scored 30 points on 11-19 shooting, including 4-4 from three point range and another 4-4 from the free throw line.
Guards from the winning teams will inevitably continue to get more attention, and deservedly so, but Pelicans fans can rest easy knowing that despite the hardships that have come with this season, at least one shining light has emerged: they have a legitimate star caliber point guard in Jrue Holiday.
Jrue got some help in the assist department tonight from Toney Douglas, who continues to find himself in the starting lineup. Both players tallied 6 assists, and Holiday had the only turnover between them.
On some nights (like last night) the Pelicans ball security and decision making in the passing game looks polished, resulting in only 7 giveaways.
On other nights, it looks like a hot mess. For whatever reason, a middle ground has yet to be discovered, so good ball control tends to bring good results.
Unfortunately, it was not enough last night.
A three pointer from Holiday gave the Pels their first lead (105-103) since his layup on the opening possession of the game. Mason Plumlee, who finished with 11 points and 6 rebounds, split a pair of free throws to bring Portland within 1.
Two more perfect trips to the line from Lillard and Plumlee respectively were answered by clutch shots from Tim Frazier (13 points) and Dante Cunningham (3 points). But CJ McCollum was tired of all of these one and two point shots, so he drained a three on a nice feed from under the basket, and the Pelicans were never able to respond.
Mar 18, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) shoots over New Orleans Pelicans forward Dante Cunningham (44) during the second half of a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Trail Blazers defeated the Pelicans 117-112. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
After failing to convert on offense and being forced to foul, the final score wound up at 117-112.
Seeing a near comeback was great. The Pels could have easily given up being down twenty, but they gave it their all until the very last buzzer sounded.
Credit Gentry for keeping his team energized, but also Holiday and Anderson for leading the charge. In the end, I for one was happy just to see that kind of effort. The Blazers deserved to win this game, but nearly had it stolen away.
As far as ping-pong balls for the Draft Lottery go, games like this will not only add up mathematically for the Pels, but the good karma that comes with not losing intentionally will surely mean something to the basketball gods.
All in all, tonight could have gone much worse.
Hopefully Anthony Davis can get back on the court soon, and can finish the season with some solid play. The Pelicans (25-43) face off against the Clippers on Sunday night (5 P.M. CST)…….