Pelicans Can’t Take Advantage of a Golden Opportunity

Published: February 4, 2015

The New Orleans Pelicans had the Thunder right where they wanted them. They entered the night up two games on OKC and needed one more win against them to clinch the tiebreaker, and oh yeah, Kevin Durant was out. But the Thunder still had that Russell Westbrook guy and he was absolutely fantastic tonight, going off for 45 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 31 complaints to the referees. The Pelicans were happy to let Westbrook shoot the mid-range J, and he was hitting tonight – racing off to 17 points in the first quarter.

Then, Westbrook got going in transition as the Pelicans guards missed several point-blank layups, which gave the Thunder numbers in transition. And when it came down to crunch time, it was clear which team was filled with playoff experience, as New Orleans settled for jumpers while OKC attacked the rim. Ryan Anderson’s three-pointer put New Orleans up 91-89 with 5:39 left in the 4th, but the Pelicans never scored again, eventually falling to the Thunder 102-91.

It was a tough loss because of what a win could have meant, but there is a lot that the Pelicans can learn from in this game – and a lot that some anxious fans can learn from as well. It is clear as day that Jrue Holiday is needed at the point of attack on defense to slow All-World point guards like Westbrook. As for the Pelicans, they need to learn from tonight quickly, because they are heading to OKC on Friday to complete the season series with the Thunder. A win will give the Pelicans a two game lead plus the tiebreaker, while a loss will pull the Thunder even with the Pels.

Notes and Observations

– The Pelicans shot selection was not horrible by any means, but they just couldn’t hit. In the 4th, all but two of their shots were in the paint or behind the arc. Shots just didn’t fall and it really killed us because when we missed at the rim, the Thunder got into transition and outscored us 27-8 in fast break points.

– One thing that I can say was poor with regard to the Pelicans offense was the guards’ inability to get to the free throw line. Pelicans guards attempted ZERO free throws tonight. Good offenses don’t have dry spells because they can get to the line. When your jumper is off (like it was for practically everyone tonight), you must get to the line and our guards do not do that. Westbrook had 9 attempts tonight, and this is not an aberration. As I have said in the past, Westbrook averages more FT attempts than Jrue, Gordon, and Tyreke COMBINED. This is a long-term issue for the Pels. Eventually, they are going to have to add at least one more perimeter player who can get to the line and help us get into the bonus quicker in quarters.

– I thought Anthony Morrow hit some big shots to keep the Thunder in it so that Westbrook could dominate down the stretch. Because of CBA rules, there is really no way we could have kept him once OKC offered him three years, but man, I would love to have that guy right now.

– While Morrow hit some tough, contested threes, Jimmer missed two big wide open ones for the Pelicans. He was feisty on the boards and stuck his nose in the paint on the defensive end. He also had a great pass to AD and a couple of nice floaters, but he has got to knock down wide-open threes. He just has to.

– The Pelicans wouldn’t have been in this game if not for Pondexter tonight, and while he gave it all he had, even he couldn’t slow down Westbrook. The guy was just on fire tonight and sometimes you have to tip your hat. The Pelicans forced him into 11 pull-up two-point jump shots and the guy drained 8 of them. If he would have hit his season average, he would have drilled 4. He got going early, and he just couldn’t miss after that. Tip your hat.

– Tyreke Evans is a high variance player. After a few really good games, it seems like some people forgot that and were willing to anoint him, but he will always have games like this (5-20 from the field). You can not prevent him from having nights like this – you just hope he has more good ones than bad ones, and that on the nights where he struggles, somebody else is red hot. Unfortunately, Gordon was off too (3-12), and again, when you aren’t getting to the FT line, that is impossible to overcome.

– Friday is going to be a tough game at OKC, especially if Durant returns. The Pelicans won’t magically find an answer for Westbrook by then, but honestly, their offense is their defense when they play the Thunder. When Tyreke attacks and makes his layups, the Thunder have to take the ball out from under the rim. When Tyreke or Gordon miss, we only have one guy back to stop them in transition. The Pels will simply have to hit their shots on Friday. If they don’t, we will probably see a similar result.


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