Pelicans come up just short in Memphis as playoff hopes fade
Something had to give.
A Grizzlies win would clinch a playoff spot.
The Pelicans had beaten Memphis five straight times.
The playoff spot is secure.
The win streak is over.
So, too, most likely, is the chance to make the playoffs for New Orleans.
Despite a spirited effort in the second of back-to-back games on the road, the Pelicans fell short in Memphis by a 115-110 margin.
The Pelicans had one very good quarter.
The Pelicans had three quarters that simply were not good enough.
New Orleans is accustomed to dominating teams in the paint.
That did not happen Monday night.
In fact, the opposite occurred as the Grizzlies outscored the Pelicans 66-52 in the paint. Of course, Memphis leads the NBA in points in the paint.
When New Orleans tried to attack the win, the Pelicans met stiff resistance as Memphis blocked an astonishing 19 shots. Rim protection is crucial to the success of any team.
Jaren Jackson Jr. dunked on a put back to start the game.
Memphis came out running at all costs against a team that played a tough contest the night before and the Grizzlies took a 16-9 lead.
Wenyen Gabriel, an unlikely source, had a pair of three-pointers off the bench in the first quarter. New Orleans closed the quarter on a 7-2 run to trail 36-31. The Pelicans had 10 assists on 13 made shots.
The Grizzlies shot 56 percent (14-of-25) from the field in the quarter.
The second quarter saw the Pelicans get even at one point but Memphis closed the half on a 23-11 run to take a 71-59 lead at the break.
Memphis finished the half 27-of-50 (55.1%) from the field with 20 assists. Memphis whipped New Orleans 28-19 on the boards. The Pelicans had 28 bench points in the half, led by Nickeil Alexander-Walker with 11 points. Billy Hernangomez had 10 points.
The Pelicans had just four turnovers in the half but simply could not get enough stops or rebound the ball well enough.
New Orleans came out and opened the second half on an 10-0 run to cut the deficit to 71-69.
It was a 15-2 start to the half for New Orleans for the Pelicans to take a 74-73 lead.
New Orleans got into the bonus with 7:06 to play in the third quarter.
The Pelicans built the lead to 86-78 but Ja Morant scored eight straight points to tie the game.
Kira Lewis Jr. then scored on a driving layup to give New Orleans an 88-86 lead going to the fourth quarter.
New Orleans outscored Memphis 29-15 in the quarter, playing excellent defense and simply outworking and outhustling Memphis much of the way. The Pelicans held Memphis to 30 percent shooting from the field in the quarter.
The Grizzlies really missed center Jonas Valanciunas, who picked up his fourth foul within the first two minutes of the third quarter and sat the rest of the period.
Valanciunas returned in the fourth quarter and the result was predictable as the Grizzlies dominated inside, winning the quarter 29-22.
With 10:47 left to play in the game, Jaxson Hayes nailed a three-pointer to give New Orleans a 91-86 lead.
That was the high-water mark in the quarter.
Memphis outscored New Orleans 29-19 the rest of the way.
After trailing by seven, Alexander Walker hit a three-pointer to cut the deficit to 112-110 with 1:17 left.
The Pelicans would not score again.
It was a gallant try.
Memphis had everything to play for and the Pelicans were missing so many key players and were clearly fatigued against a fresh team.
Still, New Orleans played the Grizzlies to the wire.
Despite winning just one of the last three road games, this Pelicans team has played hard on both ends and has been fun to watch. Players are showing they have a future in the league.
Hayes added a new dimension to his game, sinking a trio of three-pointers in a 13-point effort as he continues to play well.
Alexander-Walker was outstanding in his second game back from injury, scoring a team high 18 points with six assists in just 24 minutes. He may be the third best player on the roster, with all due respect to Lonzo Ball. Hernangomez finished with 15 points and eight rebounds. Naji Marshall had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
With the Spurs beating the Bucks at home Monday night, New Orleans now trails San Antonio by 2 ½ games with just three games to play.
More importantly, the Pelicans are three games behind in the loss column as the Spurs have four games left.
Most importantly, in the event of a tie, the Spurs own the tiebreaker.
The Spurs would have to lose all four games remaining and the Pelicans would have to win all three for the Pelicans to get to the tenth and final playoff spot.
Next up is a game at Dallas Wednesday night.
While the playoff hopes are virtually gone, it will be a game worth watching with the way this team is playing.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…