Pelicans Hang Tough but Falter Late in 112-111 Loss to Rockets

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Published: January 25, 2016

Late in the second quarter, the Pelicans lost Anthony Davis to a head injury after taking an elbow from teammate Tyreke Evans. New Orleans entered halftime with a 60-58 edge, but soon found out that AD would not return, as his injury was ruled to be a concussion (surprisingly enough, this is not the first time in his NBA career that a teammate has given him a concussion). After halftime, Houston scored the first 18 points of the 3rd quarter, leading 76-60 just over 3 minutes into the second half. You can probably see where this is going.

Except that’s not where the game ended up going. Without Eric Gordon, Anthony Davis, Quincy Pondexter, or Tyreke Evans, the Pelicans showed some serious heart and effort throughout the game’s final ~20 minutes. Fueled by absolutely stellar play by Jrue Holiday, they managed to outscore the Rockets 49-31 from the 8:40 mark of the 3rd quarter to the “2 minute warning” of the 4th, resulting in a 2-point lead. Unfortunately, James Harden proved that he was the best player on the court over those final two minutes, scoring or assisting on the team’s five points in that time which ultimately gave Houston a 112-111 victory over New Orleans.

Let’s take a look at the three things I was watching for tonight, and then move on to a few other game notes.

  1. Rebound as a team. Couldn’t really ask for much more here, especially when you consider the fact that Anthony Davis, Omer Asik, and Alexis Ajinca combined to play about 30 minutes total. Even with James Harden pulling down 11 boards, the Pelicans out-rebounded the Rockets 50-38, with that 12 rebound gap mostly made up of a 16-7 edge on the offensive glass. Ryan Anderson matched Houston’s total by himself, as he did his best to make an impact in the 2nd half even with Josh Smith limiting his open looks from outside.
  2. Limit the unproductive fouls. Not much to complain about here either, as the Pelicans committed 4 less fouls (16) than the Rockets. Harden went 10-10 from the free throw line, but New Orleans (Holiday, in particular) made him work to get there for the most part. The Pelicans actually attempted more free throws (25) than the Rockets (21), although Houston made more of them (17 to 14). If anything, you could make an argument that they should have fouled more, as Clint Capela going 4-5 from the field while only attempting 3 free throws is not a great stat for the Pels.
  3. Win the turnover battle. Though the box score will say that the Pelicans won the turnover battle 13-12, it was actually 17-12 after factoring in shot clock violations and other dead ball “team turnovers.” New Orleans outscored Houston in points off of turnovers 17 to 11, another favorable stat.

By winning each of these three areas, the Pelicans put themselves in great position to win tonight; unfortunately, shooting 14-25 from the free throw line as a team while allowing the Rockets to go 19-39 from beyond the arc with no Anthony Davis in the second half threw a wrench into everything.

Game Notes

  • Jrue Holiday played his best game of the season tonight, and maybe one of his best in a Pelicans uniform. Holiday finished with 32 points on 21 shots, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals in 36 minutes (that last number may be the most important one). He had total control over the game in the second half, accounting (via score or assist) for 28 of New Orleans’ final 35 points. While no one can reasonably expect this kind of performance every night, the Jrue Holiday that the Pelicans have gotten over the past month or so is the guy they traded Nerlens Noel to get 2 1/2 years ago.
  • Strong all-around offensive game for Ryan Anderson tonight. After a lights-out first half (16 points on 10 shots, 3-6 from long range), the Rockets stuck Josh Smith on him for most of his remaining minutes, a pretty touch match-up for Ryno offensively. His shooting numbers bear this out, as he hit only one of his 10 attempts in that half (1-2 from beyond the arc), but he also grabbed 3 big offensive boards (7 total in the game) and helped create space that Jrue so effectively used.
  • Toney Douglas has come out of nowhere to provide a much-needed shooting boost to the Pelicans’ back court after the injury to Eric Gordon. It took him just 8 shots to be New Orleans’ 3rd highest scorer on the night, going 3-4 from the 3-point line and finishing with 18 total to go along with 6 assists, 3 rebounds, a steal, a block, and no turnovers (not to mention a team-leading +/- of +22). This sounds crazy, but he has been a better version of Gordon since he went down. Shooting just as well with better, more effective off-ball movement and superior passing.
  • Tyreke looked hobbled during his minutes tonight, but even still, hard to think of many worse games for him as a Pelican than he had tonight. -24 +/- in 16 minutes played with 5 points (2-6 from the field, 0-3 from the FT line), 2 assists, and one (obviously inadvertent) elbow to Anthony Davis’ head that ended up concussing him. Rough.
  • Betchya can’t guess the Pelicans’ leading rebounder tonight! Just like everyone expected, it was Alonzo Gee, finishing with 10 boards. Gee doesn’t bring much to the table as a scorer, but he moves well enough on both ends to sufficiently help the Pelicans given their severe lack of healthy wings.
  • Two former New Orleans Hornets, Trevor Ariza and Marcus Thornton, combined to go 12-18 from 3-point range. Jerks.

Pelicans back at it on Thursday night against the Kings (of note: DeMarcus Cousins just put up the first 50-point game of his career tonight). We should know more tomorrow about Anthony Davis’ status for that game, but I’d be surprised if he plays after being diagnosed with a concussion tonight.

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