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.


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