Notes on the New Orleans Pelicans’ Collapse in Cleveland

Published: November 12, 2014

Monday night, the New Orleans Pelicans lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers 118-111. The Pelicans entered the fourth quarter down 6, but got to within 2 points with just under 4 minutes left to play. Still, the game ended with the Cavaliers raising the differential by 1 in the quarter. The real issue, however, was not the inability to get closer than 2 points so late. Rather, the issue was going from up 9 to down 6 in just over 4 minutes in the third.

We can define the run in a number of ways, including extending this into the fourth.

  • 25-7, max points difference and extending the run into the fourth
  • 16-1, max points difference but only in the third
  • 12-1, run when Asik or Davis was out, which is what I think is most interesting

Feel free to comment on other aspects of the collapse. I’m sure this is by no means exhaustive.

During this time, the Pelicans scored no field goal (same in the slightly longer version of the third quarter run). What the Pelicans did during this time, starting with the positive:

  • Eric Gordon went 1-2 from the line
  • 2 Davis rebounds, 1 offensive, 1 defensive
  • Missed 7 of 7 field goal attempts, 1 from 3
  • Committed 1 turnover (traveling by Rivers)
  • Committed 3 fouls (2 shooting)

During this run, Asik came out for Anderson, and Anderson got 1 shot attempt (7ft). In fact, the shot attempts were Evans (2), Davis (1, blocked), Anderson (1), Gordon (1), Fredette (2). To be clear, Asik came back in for Davis with 1m left to play in the quarter.

Cleveland, on the other hand, was 3-4 from the line (James), and scored 13 from the field: 2 by James, 2 by Thompson, and 9 by Irving. All shots, except for Irving’s three-point shot, were at or very close to the rim.

This run took 3:55. It was a 22-22 quarter up to that point. While not setting the standard for defensive prowess, such a quarter shows that the Pelicans could match the Cavs, just as the 78-73 score in the Pelicans’ favor showed.

Now, why I think this is interesting is that this highlights very sharply just how important defending the paint is for the Pelicans. It’s important for any team, but without a strong presence inside, the quick guards just blow through the perimeter and get to the rim (with or without the ball). When the defense tightens, they shoot three-point shots. Also, Davis alone just was not effective, just as Asik alone did not turn the tide late in the quarter.

Asik does quite well in his own right, but he lets Davis “Davis.” This is also very important.

To show the contrast, prior to this substitution for Anderson (which netted just 1 shot, but may have been to give Asik a breather), Irving had 3 shots at the rim, but that was in twice as much time. Other than 2 from Varejao (long two-point shot), the rest of the 22 were from James. Irving also missed shots prior to the substitution, and some were from midrange. He did not attempt a midrange shot after Asik subbed out, and he did not miss.

There were other stretches of the game where the substitution worked well, as in the first. In that stretch, however, Anderson got shots and hit them. In the third, that did not happen.

So the message is not that Asik is magic, Anderson is too streaky, or that Monty is a mouth-breather. The message is that this team has got to consciously attack on offense when their defensive anchors rest (as they must). This business of puttering about and lobbing firecrackers when you have a flamethrower begging to roast the competition (Anderson was 8 of 12 on three-point shots) can not continue. Lulls happen, sometimes the dice come up snake eyes, etc. Not even finding Anderson while Irving is finding the rim at the time when you know, without a doubt, that you have to “offend” because your ability to defense took a step back was a continually repeated error during the end of the third.

It’s the players not passing it or not finding him, or it’s Anderson not making himself find-able and open (one is not enough), or it’s Monty not stressing just where the easy button is. It needs to get fixed, whatever it is (likely a combo platter). Not today, and maybe not “tomorrow.” It’s just a game, or just two. Or three.

At some point, however, it affects the post-season meaningfully. I’m not sure when that it is, but if it comes to that, you can expect a very different kind of analysis . . . and not just from me . . . from the Pelicans.


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