Pelicans Don’t Blow a Lead, Beat the Jazz

Published: November 20, 2013

It’s okay to stop holding your breath, Pelicans fans. Your team beat the Utah Jazz tonight, and avenged an ugly loss a week ago, 105-98. The Pelicans led for most of the game and, despite what a bit of a Jazz run in the middle of the 3rd seemed to suggest, avoided a 4th quarter collapse and really closed the game out in the end.

While it was New Orleans’ second straight victory, this wasn’t exactly a tremendous game for Monty Williams’ men. In the opening quarter the team shot only 35% from the field. Luckily, the Jazz were equally bad shooting even worse. If the Pelicans get off to bad starts like this against a good team expect them to struggle as they attempt to come from behind. Defensively, well, yeah that’s still going to be the downfall of this team, but there was improvement!

Things turned around for New Orleans once Ryan Anderson stepped on the court. He carried over his hot shooting and was a constant threat while he was in. But we all knew the team would look different while he was still back; instead there are other areas to examine.

Lets go with the good first. Jrue Holiday remembered he was great at finishing at the rim. Tonight he looked to attack as is evidenced by all of his points coming in the paint. This type of play is going to set his teammates up for more success as well. Drive and kicks, back door cuts, etc. all become more open if teams try to take away looks at the rim. Holiday has been settling too much for mid range jumpers, and he’s been having some success with that shot, but he has tremendous ability to get inside and score. Obviously, this is something he needs to do more often.

Al-Farouq Aminu quietly had a nice offensive game tonight. He often tries to force shots when he gets the ball inside but tonight he realized those are bad looks and instead passed to teammates. He found Davis twice, once on a back door cut and the other for an open jumper. He finished the night with four assists and it was all due to just playing smart basketball.

Monty Williams made some adjustments tonight. That’s been a big and fair area of criticism against him this season. In the second half tonight, he let Austin Rivers take Brian Roberts’ minutes. Roberts was struggling leading the second unit and it was nice to see Monty recognize that. Rivers came in and, while he had two bad turnovers, ran the offense well. He was making the correct pass and really led fast breaks well.

Now the defense.

This was the big culprit in last week’s loss. So what was different?

Monty recognized that the Jazz’ biggest offense threat is Gordon Hayward, and he did what he could to force other players to beat his team. Mostly, it worked. Hayward finished a horrific 1 of 17 on the night. He did finish with 11 assists since he recognized he wasn’t open to shoot and found a teammate who, more often than not, was. Call it a good bad game for him.

Another wrinkle was the Pelicans running a zone defense to try and stem the bleeding caused by opponents running pick and rolls against them. Used in stretches this causes teams to take an extra moment to see what the defense is doing and also generally clogs the paint to take away shots at the rim. This is all great because opponents have been finding the roll man far too much against New Orleans.

But it also comes with a price. While it will help with the pick and roll defense, quick passing against a zone often leads to open 3-point shooters. Have you watched this team this season or last? Is that something the Pelicans really need happening against them even more? The Jazz took 24 attempts from deep and the Pelicans were lucky they only connected on 8 of them as many were wide open. There are teams the Pelicans will not matchup well with and the defense will be stuck in a lose/lose situation with whatever they do.

But the fact that Monty just tried something different is promising. He knows something is wrong and took steps to correct it. Whether those are the right steps or not will remain to be seen.


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