Pelicans show defense, bench help can do wonders

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NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Pelicans’ 114-107 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder may have been the team’s most impressive victory of the season thus far.

Coming on the heels of a 146-114 embarrassment in Denver at the hands of the Nuggets, New Orleans needed a win in a bad way. After falling behind 25-6 in the first quarter, the Pelicans scratched, clawed and fought their way back into the game before finally pulling away from the Thunder in the final minutes.

Anthony Davis was superlative, with 36 points and 19 rebounds, but that’s expected from AD. DeMarcus Cousins had 18 points and nine boards before being ejected in the third quarter. Their combined totals of 54 points and 28 rebounds, both exceeded their season averages.

Jrue Holiday played a very solid game with 18 points, four rebounds, and most importantly, no turnovers. Rajon Rondo continued to demonstrate his value, handing out eight assists with only one giveaway in 31 minutes.

But this was a game won by the Pelicans’ defense and its bench, two components of the team that had been much-maligned before the game.

After allowing 65 points in the first half, New Orleans held OKC to 42 points in the second. The Thunder shot 50 percent from the floor in the first 24 minutes, but only converted 13 of their 39 field goal attempts (4-for-18 on three-pointers) over the final 24.

“Obviously, we were disappointed the way the game started,” said Head Coach Alvin Gentry. “But I was really proud of the way they hung in and continued to chip away. I thought our bench did a super job of coming in and just helping us win the game.”

“Today we put the stamp on how we need to win ballgames, and that’s on the defensive end,” said Tony Allen. “I think defense is where we need to set the tone.”

The Pelicans’ reserves outscored the Thuder second unit 26-23. The trio of Jameer Nelson, Darius Miller, and Allen shot a collective 11-of-14, including 4-of-6 from distance. They also chipped in 14 rebounds, nine assists, and two steals.

“We’ve just got to bring energy no matter who’s out there on the floor,” said Nelson. “When things get tight we can’t separate.”

“It’s a team effort. We all played a part. Not one guy, not just two guys…Everybody that stepped on the floor contributed.”

Certainly, it was a team effort. But, while +/- is not a perfect stat, only Anthony Davis finished with a positive number amongst the starters (+6), while all four members of the reserves had a rating of +11 or higher.

“It’s huge,” Miller said of the bench contributions. “(The starters) do so much, it takes a lot out of them every night, so there’s going to be nights when we have to step in and have big games.”

Their contributions came at big moments, like Nelson’s 33-foot three-pointer as the shot clock expired to bring the Pelicans within two points midway through the third quarter and his alley-oop to Davis at the end of the third that gave the Pelicans a one point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

That same trio got things going at the start of the fourth quarter. Miller hit a floater off another Nelson assist. Then it was Allen with an offensive rebound and putback that pushed the Pelicans’ lead to five. Davis would do the heavy lifting from there offensively, with 14 points down the stretch, but the backups were front and center on this night.

At 9-8, the most consistent thing about this edition of the Pelicans has been the play of Davis and Cousins. If New Orleans can become an average defensive team and get regular contributions from its bench, last night’s win could be a moment that we look back on where this team really came together.

With a schedule that has the Pels facing six winning teams in their next eight games, both components will be vital.

New Orleans returns to action Wednesday night at the Smoothie King Center against the San Antonio Spurs (11-6). Game time is set for 7:00 pm.

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David Grubb

David Grubb

Featured Columnist

David Grubb has more than a decade of experience in the sports industry. He began his career with KLAX-TV in Alexandria, La. and followed that up with a stint as an reporter and anchor with WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass. After spending a few years away from the industry, David worked as sports information director for Southern University at New Orleans…

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