Glory Days takes a look back at the thirteen magical games where the Pelicans were actually healthy. For past articles in this series, click here.
The Pelicans came into December 27’s game on the heels of a 5 game road stretch and with a chance to climb to just one game under .500. Eric Gordon sat with a hip contusion and Jason Smith was missing as well, and the Nuggets were without a key piece in Kenneth Faried. The elements were there for a great game, and the Pelicans delivered just that: the Nuggets would not lead for a solitary second of the game.
Game Flow (courtesy of Popcorn Machine).. Click to enlarge
The Denver Nuggets finished the season as one of the bottom 10 defenses but had been effective in their early season stint. But the Pelicans’ Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis, and Tyreke Evans were all healthy and Monty gave them the green light tonight. The results were good.
The Pelicans were uncharacteristically very active in transition tonight and it was not just because the Nuggets had 17 turnovers. Though the Nuggets are known for their high-tempo offense, the Pelican game plan was clearly to get out and run, and they were pushing the pace off of rebounds and attacking the Nuggets defense before it got set. And even when it did, Ryno was trailing the play and available to shoot.
The Nuggets sorely missed Kenneth Faried on the defensive boards. The Pelican guards were routinely getting to the rim and drawing Timofey Mozgov’s shot-blocking attention, which was opening up easy opportunities for Ajinca, Davis, Aminu, and Ryno to clean up the misses.
Al-Farouq Aminu registered a modest stat line but was perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the increased pace. Al-Farouq was much less of a hindrance on offense because the team was constantly on the move. He ended the game with 11 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists versus just one turnover.
The ball-handling load was a pretty nice preview of what to expect in future years: Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday each took turns running the offense and had positive results. Jrue Holiday was much more effective this season with Anderson on the floor [54% TS with Anderson on floor, 46% with Anderson off floor], as his ability to occupy attention on the pick/pop made it a lot easier for Jrue to get where he wanted. Anderson didn’t have an efficient night by any means, bu Jrue finished with a very efficient stat line and I’m sure Anderson’s presence as a perimeter threat factored into that.
Tyreke’s stat line denotes an okay night but is skewed by a few horrible decisions and a few unlucky bounces. On a few of his drives, Tyreke either expected help off of the corners or simply ran out of options and threw the ball to some very surprised Nuggets (“Thanks, buddy!”). The drives to the rim didn’t always add to his point totals but often led to the putback opportunities alluded to earlier.
The offense wasn’t too fancy tonight- your typical Horns, your typical pick and roll as Monty’s bread and butter. But the main course was transition and the dessert was Anthony Davis dunks and layups. Davis was flying up and down the floor versus the slower JJ Hickson and Mozgov and the guards were looking to find him. While the passes didn’t always reach their intended targets, the focus on rewarding Davis for running the floor made me giddy with joy.
The defense was not exactly perfect (PLOT TWIST!) but the results didn’t say so, as the Nuggets barely eclipsed the immortal 40% FG% plateau and narrowly edged the Pelicans in the “cough up the ball” contest. It is a rare occurrence when you can say Gordon’s absence hurt the defense, but Anthony Morrow was still trying to figure out the defensive rotations and wasn’t doing the Pelicans any favors with his lack of foot speed. Austin Rivers’ solid defense was glued to the bench in favor of Brian Roberts, whose defensive shortcomings were suppressed because he could actually see the top of his assignment’s head.
Jrue Holiday bore the burden of staying in front of Ty Lawson and was more than up to the task, aside from some foul trouble. Holiday’s height advantage was of considerable help, as he was able to cheat off of Lawson to mitigate his driving ability and still be able to contest jumpers. Holiday’s ability to contain Lawson allowed the other Pelicans to stay closer to their assignments and prevented them from getting quality shots.. and bothered Lawson into an insanely high 8 turnovers and 3-12 shooting. And Lawson is very good.
Denver went 6 of 23 from deep on the night despite starting long-range bomber Jordan Hamilton and the suddenly trigger happy Wilson Chandler. JJ Hickson was Dr. Jekyll tonight, but his efficient night wasn’t enough to Hyde the other Nuggets. The Denver bench’s performance is thoroughly explained when I say Anthony Randolph was its biggest contributor. Nate Robinson just couldn’t get it going tonight and neither could Professor Andre Miller.
Lineups (Courtesy of NBA Media Stats.. Click to enlarge)
The bench and the final unit won this game. Tyreke Evans (+20) and Brian Roberts (+12) were the +/- kings of the night. The unit of Davis, Anderson, Al-Farouq, Tyreke, and Jrue was huge, generating 4 steals, 3 blocks, and outscoring the Nuggets by 8 in just 7 minutes. The bench mob of Roberts, Tyreke, Darius Miller, Lou Amundson, and Alexis Ajinca also stepped up by outscoring the Nuggets by 6 in the early 2nd quarter.
We didn’t get to see the Finishing Five because Eric Gordon was hurt, but the results with Al-Farouq Aminu in his place were just as encouraging. The results with Anthony Morrow, however, were not as good, as the Nuggets outscored the starting 5 by 6 points. It was the only unit that got significant tread and did not perform well.