Sorry for the pun, but after all the overreaction I have witnessed these past 24 hours, it feels good to smile and even be a little corny. The Pelicans looked focused from the start, jumping out to a 15-4 lead on the way to a 33-15 first quarter. And unlike what we saw in the Pacers game, Charlotte never got back into this one. Anthony Davis was beyond remarkable, going for 25 points, 8 rebounds, 6 blocks, 6 steals, and 4 assists in 37 minutes in the Pelicans 105-84 win on Saturday night.
Going into the game, I had a couple of keys to a Pelicans victory and they excelled in all three areas.
1.) Protect the Ball
Kemba Walker is averaging 3.5 steals per game on the young season, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is lightning quick when he jumps passing lanes. And surprisingly, Josh McRoberts has been very active as well, deflecting numerous passes to the interior. The Bobcats have been competitive this season because they keep their mistakes to a minimum while they simultaneously cause the opponent to take chances. The Pelicans need to avoid falling into the Bobcats trap to get this win tonight.
The Pelicans turned the ball over late a handful of times when the game was already decided, but for the most part they were very careful with the ball. Walker didn’t have a single steal and very few of the Pelicans turnovers led to easy opportunities for the Bobcats, as they only had five fast break points.
2. Win the Battle of the Boards
The Bobcats are -11 per game on the glass. They rank 26th in defensive rebound percentage and 27th in offensive rebound percentage. Bismack Biyombo and Michael Kidd- Gilchrist are far and away their best rebounders, but it is tough to keep them both on the court together because of how big of liabilities they are offensively. Instead, Cody Zeller, Al Jefferson, and Josh McRoberts are often down low for Charlotte and they have combined for a defensive rebound rate of right around 15% this season (that is Lopez-ish). The Pelicans bigs have to control the glass on both ends to ensure that they end this game with more possessions than Charlotte.
Again, some bench players grabbed rebounds when this game was already decided, but the Pelicans still won the battle 43-41. The Bobcats starting front court pulled down just two offensive rebounds, so Charlotte was one and done for the most part for the first three quarters of the game. Al Jefferson not playing allowed the Pelicans to go smaller than they might have otherwise, as Thomas got the minutes we saw Onuaku get in the past.
3. Push the Pace
The Bobcats want to play at a slow pace, limiting possessions so that you can’t expose their lack of talent offensively, as they rank 30th in offensive rating currently. Despite playing one of their two games with the uptempo Rockets, the Bobcats are 23rd in pace. In two games this year, the Bobcats have shot just 40.5% from the field, and when you combine that with the fact that they get so few offensive rebounds, they should be plenty of opportunities for the Pelicans to fly in this game.
The Pelicans got into their offense early and the end result was 30 assists on 37 field goals. People often think pace is all about fast break points, but it really is about getting into sets early and the Pelicans did that tonight. In addition, we saw some highlights from Evans, Gordon, and Davis on the break.
Other Notes and Observations
- I know there are a lot of good big men in the Western Conference but it is getting harder and harder for me to imagine Anthony Davis getting snubbed this year. Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard are locks for a frontcourt position. Blake Griffin is extremely likely to get in, as is Kevin Love, but Anthony Davis is right there with both of those guys. His stat line was amazing tonight and could have been even better if the Bobcats didn’t go small. Playing 4 out, 1 in forced Davis to play on the perimeter defensively for most of the second half. Still, as gaudy as his stats were, I feel like he effected the game even more than the stat line shows. The Bobcats simply ran away from whichever side of the court he was on, and when he runs straight down the middle on the fast break, it opens up so much space for everyone else. I can go on and on, but I will simply say this: He is one of the top 10 players in the NBA. Already.
- Greg Stiemsma’s stat line is exactly what I would have wished for going into the season: 2-2 from the field, 6 rebounds, and 5 blocks. Heck, he even had two assists! But for some reason, he just always fails the eye test and I don’t know why. You are terrified whenever he touches the ball, and every time he grabs a rebound he looks like he is about to lose it or tip it into the opposing teams’ basket. But he had by far his best game as a Pelican so far. At least, that’s what the stats say.
- Tyreke Evans is the point guard on the second unit. I don’t care what his player card says, and I don’t care that a six-footer is also on the court. Evans runs the offense, and that is the way it should be. Roberts is terrific weapon spotting up, and Evans seems to be able to drive and kick to either him or Morrow whenever defenders collapse. Tonight was Evans best game as a Pelican, scoring 15 points while also dishing out 7 assists and grabbing 6 rebounds in 31 minutes. When Dell signed him and Monty spoke of him being a Swiss Army knife, I think this is exactly what they imagined.
- I am happy every time Anthony Morrow shoots a spot up jumper, but man, he is terrible defensively.
- The Pelicans ran the Horns set several times with Tyreke Evans and Anthony Davis at the free throw line. Can you imagine how unstoppable that will be with Anderson, Jrue, and Morrow spotting up?!?
- Jeff Withey and Lance Thomas played, but Austin Rivers didn’t – even in a blowout. People ask me if he is in Monty’s “doghouse.” No, he’s not. He is just a 5th guard and the four guards ahead of him are healthy, so like 5th guards on other teams, he is not playing.
- The final score says the Pelicans only gave up 84 points, but honestly, their defense wasn’t that much better than what we saw in Orlando. Charlotte got a lot of open three-pointers and they also got to the line a ton. Fortunately for the Pelicans, they are a terrible offensive team, as they missed 15 free throws (21-36) and 18 three’s (3-21). We saw Ramon Sessions walk down the lane on one uncontested layup and the Pelicans have communication issues on several pick and rolls. Yes, the blocks (a franchise record 18) was nice, but there is still a lot to be fixed here.
- Free fries!!
- Aminu played with more energy tonight and got the Pelicans off to a hot start. Still, Morrow got just as many minutes as Aminu tonight (22) because there is so much more spacing when he is on the floor.
- I felt like Holiday and Jason Smith played incredible tonight while I was watching the game, so I was surprised to see rather pedestrian stats (save for Jason Smith’s 5 blocks). Perfect example of why you can’t just look at the box scores. The eye test will never die!
- So, um, can Monty keep his job for another day or two?
- I am in a fantasy league with some weird scoring system that I can’t understand, but all I know is Anthony Davis got me 52 points tonight. I have no idea how, but I do know that is the most anybody has got so far in this league. So, um, take that for what its worth.
- The Pelicans have two days to prepare for the Suns. I watched them play the other night and they are fun to watch, as they love to get up and down. Not a ton of talent, but Bledsoe could be a handful for Jrue Holiday. Will be a good test for him, especially offensively where he is trying to keep the turnovers down.