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Glory Days: Neither Team Plays Well, So The Score Is Close
Glory Days is a series that takes a look back at the 13 magical games where the New Orleans Pelicans core was healthy. For past games in this series, click here.
I find the New Orleans Pelicans’ game against the Portland Trailblazers on December 21st 2013 to perhaps be my ideal game to talk about. First and foremost, I love reviewing on court play—looking at what went well, what didn’t, where to improve—versus musing about potential free agent signees. Secondly, I actually missed this game because Mason and I were in the Superdome screaming for our alma mater, Tulane, in their bowl game. Let’s do this…
The First Quarter
The Pelicans simply came out shooting well making 4 out of their first 6 shots. Two made threes stand out because both times the shooter, Anderson and Gordon, essentially took them because they had a little bit of space. They came out firing and weren’t scared to try and go basket against basket will the Blazers. Eric Gordon in particular was more active off the ball than we normally see him and it caused him to get a nice look towards the end of the quarter coming off a cut.
But the main reason the Pelicans lead by 5 after the first quarter was simply they made more shots than Portland did. You probably just read that and immediately thought I was a genius with my analysis, but when you hold an opponent to 34.8% shooting and shoot 55% yourself, even if the shots you’re making aren’t good, then, yeah, you should be leading. Take a look at the Pelicans shot chart.
It’s nothing special. The threes are nice, but there is a lot of midrange in there, too. It’s just a good thing that area is green otherwise New Orleans wouldn’t be leading at this point.
The Second Quarter
And then we hit the runs. In this quarter alone the Pelicans go on a 10-0 and 7-0 run. But those are sandwiched around runs of 5-0, 6-0 and 13-0 for the Blazers.
The Pelicans looked to get the ball inside more taking 16 of their 27 shots in the paint. Tyreke Evans tried driving as much as possible to the rim as all but 1 of his attempts came outside of three feet. That’s the right idea to generate high percentage shots but the team struggled when they got in close only hitting on 8 of their 14 attempts inside.
On the flipside, Damian Lillard turned it on with Austin Rivers defending him. Rivers is a better defender than people give him credit for but his light frame leaves him struggling to fight through screens. Lillard took advantage with the extra space by attacking the rim or shooting an open jumper.
But when it wasn’t him scoring the Pelicans did a good job of bending without breaking. Holding LaMarcus Aldridge, Nic Batum, and Robin Lopez to a combined 5 makes and 8 rebounds in one period is strong.
This game is a little weird. Up 53-52 but without looking impressive. The offense is scoring through iso-ball and made mid-range jumpers. There aren’t a whole lot of plays being run for the shooters and the Blazers are doing a great job of keeping Davis away from the basket. He is being forced to shoot bad jumpers and when he gets inside on the pick and roll there is a help defender there to alter his shot.
There is neither pretty nor efficient basketball. While attacking the rim is good you need to finish or get fouled. Unfortunately, the Pelicans aren’t converting or getting fouled on their drives. It should add up to another potential blowout but…
The Blazers are shooting a lowly 40% from the field and an even worse 21.4% from deep. If they shoot better this could be a ten point deficit. If I watched this game live I’d be really worried about the second half.
For the Pelicans offense it’s a better version of what we saw in the second quarter. Let Holiday, Evans and Gordon go full bore at the rim. Evans, again, shuns the outside shooting and all four of his attempts come inside as that’s all the Pelicans really try to do. The team’s lone three pointer isn’t even a set play for Anderson. He just up and shoots.
Evans is worth mentioning again. He has a tendency to be a little out of control when he drives. But in the third quarter he does an excellent job of not taking on three defenders. Watching him this quarter you can really see why the Pelicans went after him in free agency.
Throughout the quarter the Pelicans really keep up with the Blazers yet are outscored by 6 in the quarter. This is mostly due to the Pelicans turning the ball over 4 times compared to the Blazers’ 1. 3 of the 4 turnovers simply come down to me screaming, “Hold onto the ball better!” which I think are better than dumb off-ball offensive fouls. Chalk it up to young players.
Again, the Blazers are ice cold from deep despite more than doubling the Pelicans’ number of attempts. As the fourth quarter starts this could be worrisome since the Blazers rank in the top 10 for 3-point percentage.
Well, here we are with the Pelicans down 78-83. This should be where they wilt. Where the better Blazers team pulls away. Well, yes and no.
I want to start with the defense first. The Blazers picked it up from behind the arc some going 4 of 8 in the final period. But when it came to inside looks the Pelicans absolutely shut the Blazers down. For shots 16 feet and under the Pelicans held Portland to 3 of 10. 30%! That’s incredibly outstanding. It allowed the Pelicans to go on a 14-2 run in the middle of the quarter. When you have a defense playing like that, all you need is your offense to hit a few shots and you can get right back in the game. And that is exactly what the Pelicans did.
Davis scored 7 points from 5 minutes remaining to the final 45 seconds of the game. He worked hard off the ball to find space for his mid-range jumper. When he went inside with the ball he was fouled and sent to the line. You could get a sense of him taking over the game, and it’s just another one of those reminds for how good he will eventually be.
Let’s also not leave Evans out of this either. Shooting 3 of 12 in the final period isn’t good. But one of those was a heave at the end of the game. For the other 11, all but one came from close at the rim. Attacking like that forces a help defender to rotate so while Evans isn’t scoring efficiently here he’s creating space for his teammates (Davis) to work off the ball and find room for an open shot later.
But ultimately it wasn’t enough and the Pelicans fell 107-110.
It’s a strange game. Neither team played well tonight. The Pelicans stuck with their usual poor-ish shot selection while the Blazers had trouble getting the ball through the net. You’d like to see the Pelicans take advantage of an opponent’s off night but it’s still encouraging to see them keep up with a 22-5 team. But yet if you rewatch this game you’ll feel unfulfilled.
I’m starting to hate the word potential. After using it for so long to describe a player or team it becomes an insult. A derogatory term. They aren’t living up to what they could be. And I feel that way watching the Pelicans tonight. There didn’t seem to be a cohesive game plan which could have elevated the team’s play. It was a ton of wild drives and mid-range jumpers. Where are all the designed plays for Ryan Anderson? Why is Anthony Davis often the third or fourth option on offense? So many What If’s arise from a close loss like this.