Pelicans’ Late Game Defense Seals 101-99 Victory over Thunder

Published: December 21, 2014

Instead of starting this recap with words, let’s start with a beautiful, beautiful picture:

Crunch time D

This chart, my friends, displays the Oklahoma City Thunder’s shots during the final 5 minutes of the 4th quarter tonight. THIS is what many were expecting when Omer Asik joined forces with Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday in the Big Easy. While the offense wasn’t great during this stretch, the defense was simply excellent, as Russell Westbrook and the Thunder couldn’t create any easy looks (or, just as importantly, get to the free throw line). Four of these five minutes were played with the Pelicans’ five best players on the court – Holiday, Evans, Anderson, Davis, and Asik. After the game, Monty Williams explained that the motivation for playing this group together consisted of two parts:

  1. To clog the lane up for the Thunder’s attacking guards – ✓
    a) Keep Asik at the basket – ✓
    b) Keep AD either at the basket or let him “swarm” – ✓
    c) Stick Anderson on Roberson (a strong defensive player not known for providing much offense) – ✓
  2. To play his best five players all at once – ✓

With that key adjustment by Coach Williams to go along with Holiday’s relentless 4th quarter defense on Westbrook, New Orleans was able to hold off an Oklahoma City team that is really tough to beat at home. In fact, the Thunder’s loss tonight was their first at home with either Durant or Westbrook on the floor. Some other takeaways from tonight:

  • Anthony. Davis.

    AD 122114
    The man (Alien? Cyborg? Robot? Transformer?) is an absolute machine. AD finished with 38 points (in other words, 1.72 points per shot attempt) in addition to 12 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 assists, and 1 steal. Despite this monster performance, he was -4 in +/- for the game, and yet the Pelicans still won. How, you ask?…
  • The bench came to play tonight. In the first half, a unit of Austin Rivers, John Salmons, Dante Cunningham, Ryan Anderson, and Alexis Ajinca entered in relief of the starters. Upon first glance, this would appear to be a recipe for disaster, but this Pelicans bench mob outscored a Jackson-Lamb-Morrow-Collison-Perkins lineup 18-11 in 7 minutes of play.  The heavy lifting was done by the big men, as Anderson and Ajinca dropped 8 points each in that short time. Remember when that Kendrick Perkins guy was known for his defense? Yeah, Alexis Ajinca doesn’t either.
  • Jrue Holiday did everything you want from your point guard tonight. He attempted 12 shots tonight, and while he only made 4 of them, they either came from the painted area or the 3-point line, and three of his four makes were from long range. He dished out a career-high 15 assists. Most importantly, though, he was a thorn in Russell Westbrook’s side, particularly late in the game (as noted above). Sure, Westbrook scored 29 points, but it took him 27 shots to do it (compare his 1.07 points per shot attempt to AD’s ratio above), in large thanks to Holiday’s relentless defense. No one on this planet can consistently stay in front of Westbrook, but Holiday made him work for every non-transition point he scored, and you could clearly see Russ start to wear down as the 4th quarter progressed.
  • The free throw disparity in this game was pretty brutal, as Westbrook shot more free throws (11) than the entire Pelicans team (10). Russ earns most of those attempts, but Tyreke appeared to draw just as much contact as him – if not more – and finished the game with as many trips to the free throw line as you and I did. This lack of respect from the officials has become a theme this season, as his free throw rate (a ratio of free throw attempts per shot attempt) of .242 is well below each of his last two seasons (.354 and .346) despite taking about the same percentage of his shot attempts at the rim as last season (56%). It didn’t come back to haunt the Pels tonight, but it has before, and it certainly could again.
  • After the game, David Wesley interviewed Anthony Davis to talk about the game. Wesley’s last question to Davis revolved around the Pelicans’ final offensive play, which consisted of Tyreke Evans dribbling at the top of the key until 5 seconds remained on the shot clock, followed by a couple of unsuccessful attempts to get to the rim and a fade-away mid-range jumper that was off the mark. When Wesley asked what the play was supposed to do, Davis answered by saying “it was that” and that he was going to set a screen for Evans, but he thinks Coach Williams told him to back off to let Tyreke go to work. Working under the assumption that all of this was indeed the case, you can’t help but be concerned about the play call from Monty. With so many offensive weapons at his disposal and the proven ability that Williams has shown to draw up successful sets, it is very peculiar that the Pelicans would not only run a simple “hero ball” play, but also wait until 5 seconds remained on the shot clock to do it. If Evans is just going to sit there dribbling for 15 seconds, why not call a timeout and draw up something better? The defense will be set either way.

Next up for the Pelicans is a Paul George-less Indiana Pacers team at 6 PM on Tuesday night in Indy before returning home on Friday night to take on the Spurs.


  1. Pelican Poster

    December 21, 2014 at 10:45 pm

    Great job Mason…you made that a very fun read…too bad I missed the game but I’m firing up the DVR for the midnight rebroadcast!  So glad to see our guys bounce back again after a tough loss.  Have to find a way to stay mentally consistent, since to me there is no other explanation for last night’s lackluster performance.  I can’t see Monty being to blame for performances like that.

  2. Steven J

    December 21, 2014 at 10:57 pm

    I don’t know if I’m the only one to notice it. But how about Cunningham’s shot??? I swear he does not miss any open shots. There is no way his shot could have been this good prior to coming to NO. Every time he pulls up inside the 3 he is automatic. Definitely a pleasant surprise to me.

  3. PelicanSaints

    December 21, 2014 at 10:59 pm

    Great win for a young team coming off a bad lost. The trust there building as a team will only equal more wins going forward. Still lots of work to do…defense, offensive execution down the stretch. But, the effort and teamwork is there…..I feel very encouraged as a Pelicans fan……

  4. mojart

    December 21, 2014 at 11:03 pm

    where is mcnamara BSS?

  5. bsbob

    December 22, 2014 at 12:23 am

    Jrue’s ” D ” saved the game.How the hell did last night happen? BRING MAC BACK!

  6. 504ever

    December 22, 2014 at 1:26 am

    In the end, this was an Al Davis game.  Just Win Baby!  The Pelicans did and they are back in 8th place..

  7. msise22

    December 22, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    I was thriled to hear Davis call out Monty for that last play. It was always my theory that Tyreke isn’t ALWAYS the ball hog we think he is. Now that the Saints are done, I want the media to start calling out Monty the way they do to Payton. Westbrook got absolutely demolished by the OKC media last night for being a “ballhog” at the end. None of our players or coaches not named “Gordon” ever get any of it. This is a grown man’s game. It’s time someone is held accountable for this team’s inconsistency. 
    It’s not clear there, but I’m very pleased with the win regardless of who did or didn’t play. OKC is still a formidable team without KD. It was a great effort after getting owned at home the night before. Let’s keep it going…and give AD the rock down the stretch when he’s hot (or even when he’s not hot). The best players need the ball in their hands to ice games for their team.

  8. 504ever

    December 22, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    Was that ballhogging/hero ball on the last play, or a conscious decision to get the Pelican’s best rebounders, Asik & AD, under the basket with the best shooter/driver combination player, Tyreke, with the ball in his hands?  To put it another way, what if Tyreke hit the rim on that shot?  Isn’t that, the execution, really the problem, not the play?

  9. msise22

    December 22, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    504ever msise22 Poor play call imo. The ball should always run through davis. You can’t bank on making a tough shot or getting the rebound. You can bank on having your on fire all-star get a decent look. And were you happy with the two three point shots before that when we were up two? The play calling was brutal down the stretch. 
    Sure, it’s hard to argue with hero ball when Tyreke is making everything in sight, but when you’re trying to preserve a game that late in the game, the rock has got to go through your best player. You have the rest of the game to run “bully-ball” and hope for makes or putbacks. If we’re going to call AD a top three player, then he needs to get top 3 touches at the end. Do you think Durant, Lebron, etc. should ever sit back and watch a teammate dribble for 20 seconds only to throw up an unbalanced jumper? Surely there’s an exception to every rule, but last night was not one. 
    P.S. Iso is not a hard play to execute. You either make the shot or you don’t. Putting us in iso with four scorers on the court is rarely a good plan.

  10. 504ever

    December 22, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    msise22 504ever
    How much better chance does AD have making the shot gets balanced against how much worse your rebounding chance is when AD takes the shot instead of Tyreke.  You also have to put the last play in context.  The Pelicans had shot two straight 3s with long rebounds going to OKC on the two prior plays.  
    Finally, OKC was trying to take away AD on offense in the last few possessions.  That happens.  (He had killed them in the quarter).  The Pelicans have to be able to react to that and try another option.  And what was so “tough” about Tyreke’s last shot, a step back 16 footer?

  11. ryanschwan

    December 22, 2014 at 6:23 pm

    mojart Never heard of him.

  12. PelicanSaints

    December 22, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    msise22 …My question to you is…what’s more important to you..Placing blame after a win ? Are enjoying the fact this we got a win ?……My advice to you my friend is to RELAX and enjoy the process…be a fan not a critic…

  13. msise22

    December 23, 2014 at 8:32 am

    504ever msise22 So you’re ok with step back 16 footer’s to ice the game? Ok. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. I think there are better options at the end of the game…it’s that simple.

  14. msise22

    December 23, 2014 at 8:36 am

    PelicanSaints msise22 Did you read the second paragraph of my original post? I think it’s ok to be happy with a win while still questioning some decisions.

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