Pelicans lack old late-game magic in loss at Bucks

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Giannis Antetokounmpo

It was right there for the taking.

The New Orleans Pelicans, though short-handed, had an opportunity to pick up a huge road win against the Milwaukee Bucks last night.

However, after taking a 107-106 lead with just under six minutes remaining, New Orleans was outscored 17-8 the rest of the way and lost 123-115.

“I thought we played hard,” said Alvin Gentry. “I thought we competed at a really high level. I thought we followed the game-plan that we put out there. But, you have to be able to finish games. We did a poor job the last four minutes of the game of executing and being in the right spots, and then making the right plays. So, the effort was really good, but the execution down the stretch has to be much better.”

Yeah, it does.

Last season the Pelicans were one of the NBA’s best late game performers. New Orleans finished tied for first with 30 “clutch” victories, and was in the top five in winning percentage (.600), field goal percentage (48.5), and +/- (1.2).

This season has been a near complete reversal. The Pelicans have 5 clutch victories so far, tied for next to last in the league. At 5-10, their .333 win percentage is dead last, as is their 35.3 percent shooting. Their +/- of -2.3 is just .01 better than the last place Atlanta Hawks.

Against the Bucks, New Orleans continued its pattern of poor late-game execution. Over the last five-plus minutes, the Pelicans were 2-8 from the floor, with three turnovers.

Playing with the bonus for more than half of the fourth quarter, they made it to the line only six times, with Tim Frazier taking the only two free throws for New Orleans as the game was slipping away.

Some of the turnovers were inexplicable. There were bad shots early in the shot clock and impossible ones late.

Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and Darius Miller combined to go 7-18 (4-10 on 3PA) in the
period and the Pels couldn’t get any scoring inside.

On an average night, New Orleans scores a league-best 57.1 points in the paint. The Bucks, and the poor execution of the offense helped limit the Pelicans to 38.

Though Davis finished with 27 points, 11 boards, and three blocks, his personal +/- was a team-low -13. In fact, from when AD re-entered the game at the 5:45 mark of the third quarter with the Pelicans holding an 80-74 lead to the game’s end, New Orleans was outscored by 14 points.

Of course Milwaukee played a big part in the loss. They don’t have the second-best record in the East for nothing.

But when you have an opportunity to steal a win on the road, it’s imperative that you take advantage.

The Pelicans are like a boxer punching and punching, but without a defensive strategy or a counter punch.

When they connect, the knockouts can be spectacular; but the longer the fight goes on the style becomes less and less effective.

Add to that some questionable coaching decisions that were left unquestioned after the game.

Why, after scoring 17 points in the first half, did Darius Miller attempt only four shots in the second half?

Why didn’t Frank Jackson get more time on the court? Jackson scored eight points on 3-5 shooting, more than Tim Frazier, Andrew Harrison, Cheick Diallo, and Wesley Johnson combined (6) and one more than E’Twaun Moore.

And the biggest question of all…

Where was Jahlil Okafor for the final quarter and a half?

After not playing in nine of the previous 15 games, and not playing more than four minutes since Nov. 28, Okafor was the Pelicans’ best player last night.

The former third overall pick showed off his post moves and touch to the tune of 17 points on 6-8 shooting in only 14 minutes of action.

“I was just doing what I do, what I’ve always been able to do,” said Okafor. “My teammates were telling me to keep going, so they gave me a lot of confidence and made my job easy.”

And yet, when the offense began to stall he remained glued to the bench.

It was another bitter disappointment for the Pelicans and a bad way to start this very difficult road trip.

Now they head to Los Angeles to face both the Lakers and more talk of Anthony Davis’ future, then on to face the upstart Sacramento Kings and Dallas Mavericks.

They say it’s darkest before the dawn. It can’t get any darker, can it?

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David Grubb

Sports 1280am host/CCS reporter

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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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