Glory Days: Balanced Offensive Attack Leads Pelicans to 121-105 Road Win over 76ers
Glory Days is a series that takes a look back at the 13 magical games where the Pelicans key players were all healthy and playing together. This is Game #6 in the series. For a look at all the Glory Days posts in this series, click here.
After winning their first three games with all key players healthy, the Pelicans got a rude wake-up call by way of a blowout loss in San Antonio, and then lost a heart-breaker at home to the Warriors. New Orleans then set out on a three-game road trip, the first of which in Philadelphia in a rematch against a 76ers team that they dismantled less than two weeks before. The game was a gradual dismantling of a far weaker opponent, as consistency was the name of the game for the Pelicans; New Orleans won the game by 16 points, but didn’t outscore Philly by more than six in any given quarter.
With no context (or consideration of how bad the opponent’s roster was), the rotation alone used by Monty Williams gave this game a postseason-esque feel. Apart from a five minute Lou Amundson appearance in the late-first quarter and early-second quarter, the Pelicans used only eight players in the game – Holiday, Gordon, Davis, Evans, Anderson, Smith, Morrow, & Roberts (given in order of minutes played) – with Aminu removed from the rotation entirely. The result was some of the most efficient offense played by New Orleans all season.
Note: most of the links below direct to video clips from the game.
Because I legitimately could not remember who won this game before turning it on, I re-watched it without looking up the box score or final score first to keep things as interesting as possible. When the Pelicans started off the game with two mid-range jumpers from Smith and Gordon (both makes) followed by a missed floater by Morrow in his first start of the season, suffice it to say I was a little disappointed at the shot selection. Fortunately, 62 of the team’s remaining 90 field goal attempts came from either 3-point range or right at the rim thanks to unselfish play and relentless attacking of the paint from the guards, resulting in an offensive rating of 122.1 for the game (121 points on 99 possessions).
The Pelicans racked up 35 points in the first quarter, which is especially impressive when you consider the fact that Anthony Davis went scoreless on five shots. The ball movement was fun to watch, as almost everyone who got significant minutes for the Pelicans possessed a jump shot that had to be respected. Check out this play midway through the first quarter, the first of the game for the “finishing five” group. Jrue gets the ball at the top of the key and gets a couple screens from Davis and Anderson. After the latter pick, he attacks just enough to draw Gordon’s defender in one step too many, subsequently kicking it out to Eric for an open three, which he hits. Already, we have an example of how simple it can be to get a good look with so many talented players on the floor together.
Moving on to the second quarter, Anthony Davis started to get more involved, but there were some other issues that hampered the offense a bit. The Pelicans turned the ball over five times, including three traveling violations (two in a half court set by Evans, one in transition by Morrow). Additionally, Brian Roberts did a pretty good job of stalling the offense when he was in the game, and his team getting outscored by 6 points in his 6 minutes in the second quarter (no other Pelicans player was worse than -1 in that time frame) indicates as much. Besides Roberts and the turnovers, though, things went pretty smoothly. Apart from his 10 points in the quarter, Anthony Davis was even able to show off his passing ability on this set halfway through the period. Gordon dumps the ball off to Davis after a pick and roll, and instead of taking the ball to the rim in a considerable amount of traffic, he finds Holiday wide open on the wing, whose man had collapsed to defend the paint. A couple minutes later, the Pelicans use some great ball movement to get Anderson an open look that he happened to miss (though Holiday could have found him far sooner in the possession) initiated by Tyreke Evans’ drive into the paint. Great stuff to see that should occur far more frequently moving forward.
In the second half, we got a great glimpse of Anthony Davis’ versatility, as he tallied 8 points, 6 rebounds (3 offensive), 2 assists, and a block in the third quarter alone. His three offensive rebounds in the period resulted in 6 second chance points (4 from him, 2 from Anderson). As the game moved on and the Pelicans started to put the 76ers away, one play stands out in its simplicity, but effectiveness. Tyreke Evans gets right by Carter-Williams off the dribble (though there was no reason for MCW to be guarding him so close that far away from the rim) and makes his way into a totally empty lane, where he gets fouled by defenders rushing to catch up to him before he could make an easy layup. The most likely help defender in this situation is Ryan Anderson’s man, but with Ryno ready to shoot a three from the corner, it becomes a “pick your poison” decision for Thaddeus Young. Nothing but a simple isolation drive from Evans, and two free throws were the result. Jrue also did a great job of polishing off his former team with some nice play down the stretch.
This game was a below average performance overall from the Pelicans on the defensive side, allowing 105 points on 99 possessions (D-rating of 106.1); that being said, it was better than their 107.3 D-rating for the season as a whole, a number which placed the team in the bottom fifth of the NBA. New Orleans did, however, have some bright spots on this end, which we’ll get to in a bit.
The 76ers were able to hang around for the first three quarters for two main reasons – three-point shooting in the first half, and offensive rebounds in the third quarter. If not for those successes, this game would have looked a lot like the game the two teams played in New Orleans. There was some shoddy pick-and-roll defense mixed in at certain points, but those first two issues mentioned were the big ones. Philly attempted a whopping 17 threes in the first half alone, knocking down 9 of them, which accounted for about half of their total points in the half. Many of these resulted from simply a lack of perimeter pressure; Pelicans big men often wouldn’t come out far enough on Thaddeus Young or Spencer Hawes, and Pelicans guards wouldn’t respect Evan Turner or the other lesser known 76ers guards. In the second half, things regressed to normal, as Philadelphia made just 3 of their 14 attempts, finishing at 38.7% from long range for the game in total.
In the third quarter alone, the 76ers went 0-6 from 3-point range, but were able to find a new way to give the Pelicans trouble, as they collected as many offensive rebounds as New Orleans had total rebounds in the period (10). Thaddeus Young did the bulk of the damage in this regard, grabbing 5 of those 10, including 3 in one possession. All things considered, this gaudy number for a single quarter really was more of a function of long rebounds off of missed 3-pointers and blocked shots recollected by the shooter more than Pelicans players being poorly positioned. Regardless, it helped Philly to stay close enough to have a realistic shot at making a fourth quarter comeback.
Though allowing 105 points on 99 possessions isn’t very good, the Pelicans were able to do some really good things on this end that translated into easy points. The 76ers committed 19 turnovers, 13 of which were of the “live-ball” nature. This defensive pressure played a large role in accumulating 25 fast break points, almost double the league per-game average and well higher than even the 76ers’ 2013-14 average of 16.6 (second worst in the NBA). Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday accounted for seven of the team’s 13 total steals.
The good news: this group played together more than any other unit, totaling 18 minutes of floor time. Monty wasn’t afraid to go to it, and the unit was absolutely dominant offensively, scoring 54 points on 39 possessions (equating to an offensive rating of 138.5). They were active on the offensive glass, as their 6 offensive rebounds were good for a well above-average offensive rebound rate of 37.5%, and their turnover rate of right around 10% was also very good.
The bad news: the 76ers were almost as dominant offensively against this lineup, scoring 48 points in that same period with an offensive rating of 134.7 (which, of course, would also be the Pelicans finishing five’s defensive rating). The main number that sticks out is a jaw-dropping 33.3% defensive rebound rate for the Pelicans. You read that right; that was their defensive rebound rate, not offensive (though the number itself is quite offensive). The finishing five only pulled down six defensive rebounds in 18 1/2 minutes, while Philly collected twelve offensive rebounds, a huge catalyst in their ability to hang with such a talented offensive unit for the New Orleans.
*starters in italics, finishing 5 in bold*
Starting lineup: Holiday, Gordon, Morrow, Davis, Smith (-4 in 6:20)
5:40 in Q1: Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Davis, Anderson (+9 in 5:16)
0:24 in Q1: Roberts, Gordon, Evans, Amundson, Anderson (0 in 0:24)
12:00 in Q2: Roberts, Morrow, Evans, Amundson, Anderson (-2 in 1:57)
10:04 in Q2: Roberts, Morrow, Evans, Amundson, Smith (+1 in 2:40)
7:24 in Q2: Holiday, Roberts, Evans, Davis, Smith (-3 in 1:13)
6:11 in Q2: Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Davis, Smith (+5 in 1:48)
4:23 in Q2: Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Davis, Anderson (+2 in 3:53)
0:30 in Q2: Roberts, Gordon, Evans, Davis, Smith (-2 in 0:30)
12:00 in Q3: Holiday, Gordon, Morrow, Davis, Smith (+8 in 6:25)
5:35 in Q3: Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Davis, Anderson (-4 in 5:35)
12:00 in Q4: Holiday, Roberts, Evans, Anderson, Smith (0 in 2:26)
9:34 in Q4: Roberts, Gordon, Evans, Anderson, Smith (+4 in 1:56)
7:38 in Q4: Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Anderson, Smith (0 in 0:43)
6:55 in Q4: Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Davis, Anderson (-1 in 3:46)
3:09 in Q4: Holiday, Roberts, Gordon, Evans, Davis (+3 in 3:09)
While this game was against one of the weakest teams in the NBA, seeing the Pelicans’ offense clicking on all cylinders was a welcome sight for someone who hasn’t watched the team play since their final game of the injury-plagued 2013-14 season. Jrue was facilitating, Gordon was making shots, Tyreke was attacking effectively, Anderson was spacing the floor, and Davis was making his presence known all over the court despite a slow start. Smith provided valuable minutes as a third big, though he and Roberts’ quick triggers from mid-range in relation to time remaining on the shot clock were bothersome. This Pelicans team is already equipped at full strength to decimate the weaker teams in the NBA with its athleticism and versatility on offense. If provided the opportunity to add a couple more pieces while continuing to gel as a group, they could begin doing it to the better teams in the league as early as next season.