After two to losses in Denver and Golden State to start 4-game road trip, the Pelicans entered Los Angeles to play the Clippers on the second game of a back-to-back. Obviously not an ideal scenario, but the game did provide the return of Anthony Davis after missing eight games (fewer than expected) with a non-displaced fracture of the fifth metacarpal of his left hand. Let’s take a look at what went wrong for the Pelicans in this one, while also trying to appreciate what went right on which the team should be able to build.
Note: All links below direct to game footage.
When evaluating the Pelicans’ offense tonight, the first thing that stuck out to me was Al-Farouq Aminu, and not in a good way. The Clippers trotted out a starting five of Paul, Crawford, Dudley, Griffin, and Jordan, and Aminu was matched up against Dudley. In a lineup such as that, Dudley is clearly the 5th option from a scoring perspective, but somehow he still managed to put up 5 points on 2 attempts while Aminu was in the game. Needless to say, AFA doesn’t exactly help to space the floor on offense, so the question remains – what is he doing out there? Sure, he brings athleticism in transition and is a great rebounder, but the Clippers are top-5 in the league in turnover rate and the Anderson-Davis front court is solid on the glass (especially on the defensive side). After watching the team play with him on the court more and more, it just doesn’t seem like he adds more value than he takes away with many of the team’s best players.
While New Orleans was pretty average offensively overall, there were a couple plays that gave reason for excitement, especially near the start of the second quarter. The Pelicans are a team that frequently ignores the potential value of the corner three point shot, but were able to capitalize on this usual deficiency twice in a four minute span. The first of the two took place thanks to a very simple drive-and-kick to start the quarter, but the second was much more elegant and involved some unexpected names. Aminu is able to make a very nice entry pass to his screener, Jason Smith, in the post, who instinctively kicks it out to Morrow in the corner when he sees Morrow’s man cheating into the paint to help onto him. If this play can be executed by Aminu and Smith – not exactly the world’s greatest passers – that certainly bodes well for some of the more gifted offensive players on the roster and signals excellent play design by Coach Williams. The Pelicans going 4-7 from long range in the quarter was a big reason why they only trailed by 7 at halftime.
The curious case of Al-Farouq Aminu reappeared in the third quarter, as he picked up 3 fouls (2 of them offensive) along with taking a couple bad shots within the first five minutes. The real bummer in this quarter, though, was that the Pelicans were only able to turn six offensive rebounds into three points – a putback dunk for Aminu, and one of two from the free throw line from Davis. Lazy play from Eric Gordon didn’t really help much either, including this sequence where he misses a ill-advised jumper, fails to hustle back on D, and inexplicably commits a foul on a fadeaway jumper from DeAndre Jordan.
On the plus side, I really liked this play to get Anderson a wide open three pointer (though he wasn’t able to knock it down). Davis catches the ball at the right elbow and waits for Anderson to set a screen for Gordon on the left the wing. Davis then takes a dribble to the left elbow and hands the ball off to Gordon, after which he collapses down into the paint. In the process, however, he kind of runs through Anderson’s man, Blake Griffin, effectively creating the same effect that a screen would have. Doing so makes Griffin unable to recover to Anderson beyond the arc, who gets a wide open shot.
By 7:30 remaining in the final quarter, the game was effectively blown open, as Los Angeles stretched their lead out to 19 points. Nevertheless, Monty gave the finishing five some additional minutes in the game’s final six minutes, who posted a +3 point differential in that span (though the Clippers were never threatened). They faced three guard lineups for the majority of the time, and both Tyreke Evans and Anthony Davis excelled with this matchup, combining for 12 points on just 4 field goal attempts.
Yuck. 108 points for the Clippers on 92 possessions, equivalent to a defensive rating of about 117.5. Watching this game, it was pretty clear that the Pelicans were not only over-matched, but also on the second night of the back-to-back, purely based on the amount of times that New Orleans players switched on pick-and-rolls (especially in the second half). This, of course, is often akin to getting stuck between a rock and a hard place given Los Angeles’ finishing ability inside along with their strong perimeter shooting, but these skills were amplified by some lazy defense.
Early on, the Clippers were able to push the ball very effectively, whether it be off of Pelicans missed shots or even made shots. Later in the first quarter, the Paul/Griffin/Jordan trio runs what may have been my favorite play of the entire game for Los Angeles against the New Orleans “Finishing Five”; as the commentators state, it’s incredibly difficult to stop. Blake Griffin goes to set a couple of screens for Chris Paul, forcing Anthony Davis to help onto CP3, who then dumps the ball off to Griffin at the left elbow. As Griffin approaches the rim, Anderson helps up onto him since Davis hasn’t yet had time to fully recover, and Blake subsequently tosses a simple alley-oop to the now-open DeAndre Jordan, who slams it home. Good luck stopping that.
As the game progressed, the defense got progressively worse. The second quarter was about as foul-happy of a quarter you’ll ever see for the Pelicans in a game without Stiemsma touching the floor (Ajinca had not yet been signed). The Clippers got to the line 14 times, with Darren Collison leading the charge by pushing the ball in transition. The wheels continued off the bus in the third quarter, with Los Angeles utilizing a 15-2 run to really put some distance between them and New Orleans after the Pels had cut the lead to 4. To be honest, the defense over the first half of that run wasn’t bad at all, as the Clippers made tough shots. It’s possible that the Pelicans just had the wind taken out of their sails after seeing the points piled on despite good defensive effort, as the back end of the run was not contested very heavily at all. The end result was a 13 point lead for Los Angeles and a commanding lead entering the final frame.
The fourth quarter saw the Pelicans drop 30 on the Clippers on the offensive end, but it wasn’t close to enough as Los Angeles was able to match that scoring effort point for point. The first play of the quarter set the tone pretty effectively, as a simple Paul/Jordan pick and roll led to an easy alley-oop dunk. From there, the Clippers just made it rain from long range, making five of their ten attempts in the period to keep the Pelicans at an arm’s length.
While this Pelicans unit was only outscored 41-40 in its 18 minutes on the court, the Clippers were able to do so in two fewer possessions (36 to 34). As a result, the differential extrapolates to a net rating of a pretty disappointing -9.5. While disappointing on its surface, this can be seen as somewhat of a moral victory given all that went wrong for the group. Throughout the entire game, members of the finishing five not named Anthony Davis accumulated 50 points on 53 shot attempts; it is going to be difficult to win a game in any environment when your 2nd through 5th options account less than a point per field goal attempt. Add on the fact that it was the second game of a back to back and the first game with Anthony Davis back in the lineup, and that makes it even more impressive that the Pels were able to hang around with a team firing on all cylinders like the Clips.
*starters in italics, finishing 5 in bold*
Starting lineup: Holiday, Gordon, Aminu, Anderson, Smith (-1 in 5:47)
6:13 in Q1: Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Davis, Anderson (-1 in 3:26)
2:47 in Q1: Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Davis, Smith (0 in 0:28)
2:19 in Q1: Rivers, Morrow, Evans, Davis, Smith (-3 in 2:19)
12:00 in Q2: Rivers, Morrow, Evans, Davis, Anderson (+2 in 2:13)
9:47 in Q2: Rivers, Morrow, Evans, Davis, Anderson (-4 in 1:38)
8:09 in Q2: Holiday, Morrow, Aminu, Davis, Anderson (+2 in 1:20)
6:49 in Q2: Holiday, Morrow, Aminu, Davis, Anderson (-1 in 1:33)
5:16 in Q2: Holiday, Gordon, Aminu, Davis, Anderson (-2 in 1:07)
4:09 in Q2: Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Davis, Anderson (+1 in 4:00)
0:09 in Q2: Holiday, Evans, Aminu, Anderson, Smith (0 in 0:06)
0:03 in Q2: Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Davis, Anderson (0 in 0:03)
12:00 in Q3: Holiday, Gordon, Aminu, Anderson, Smith (-6 in 5:19)
6:41 in Q3: Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Davis, Anderson (-4 in 4:12)
2:29 in Q3: Holiday, Rivers, Evans, Davis, Anderson (+4 in 2:29)
12:00 in Q4: Rivers, Morrow, Evans, Davis, Smith (-4 in 3:50)
8:10 in Q4: Rivers, Morrow, Evans, Anderson, Smith (+1 in 1:37)
6:33 in Q4: Rivers, Morrow, Evans, Davis, Anderson (0 in 0:29)
6:04 in Q4: Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Davis, Anderson (+3 in 6:04)
Unfortunately, sometimes the expanation for a loss is depressingly simple – the better team won. Within that underlying theme, there were certainly other contributing factors – New Orleans on day two of a back-to-back, Davis coming off the bench as he returned from his injury, being in the middle of a west coast road trip – but really, the main thing that stuck out to me was chemisty. The core of this Clippers team on this night – Paul, Crawford, Griffin, & Jordan – has been together for a decent amount of time now, and it shows on the court. The Pelicans haven’t been afforded the same opportunity. The combination of chemistry and players knowing their roles can supersede many other competitive advantages, which is what would have been needed for New Orleans to consistently outplay Los Angeles. Give this Pelicans team some more time together, and between that improved chemistry and the continued Rise of the Brow, they’ll improve rapidly.