Pelicans come up short with game on the line in Houston
When you cannot make free throws, when you cannot take care of the basketball and when you cannot find a way to get your best players going in the fourth quarter, you are going to lose.
The New Orleans Pelicans checked all of those boxes Sunday in Houston and they lost 117-109.
Of course, they easily could have won. The more experienced, seasoned, winning team played winning basketball when it mattered most while the inexperienced, unseasoned losing team came up short when it mattered most.
New Orleans lost despite destroying Houston 63-43 on the boards and shooting 44 percent from the field to just 39 percent for the Rockets.
The Pelicans fell by turning the ball over 21 times and by coming up totally empty in the fourth quarter, scoring just 16 points after taking a lead into the final frame.
The Rockets chose to play small with no starter at over six-foot-6. The size differential played a large role in the rebound disparity but Houston was able to mitigate that disadvantage to win the game.
Things started well for the Pelicans, who went on 14-0 run in first quarter, including a pair of 3-pointers by Lonzo Ball to take an early 16-7 lead.
New Orleans blew the lead, due to 10 turnovers, and Houston took a 30-28 lead by the end of the first quarter.
The Pelicans made 11-of-20 field goals while Houston was just 11-of-28 and New Orleans dominated the smaller Houston lineup 17-7 on the boards but the turnovers killed the Pelicans while the Rockets had just one turnover.
James Harden had 14 points in the quarter while Brandon Ingram had 10 points for the Pelicans.
It was amusing but accurate to hear Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry comment on the quarter on the ABC telecast.
“We’re throwing the ball all over the doggone court,” Gentry said, obviously angry and frustrated.
The Pelicans trailed 65-60 by halftime despite shooting 53 percent from the field to just 39 percent for the Rockets and despite crushing Houston 34-14 on the boards. Houston got off seven more shots than the Pelicans, thanks to the 14 turnovers in the half by the Pelicans. As for Houston, the Rockets had just one turnover.
Zion Williamson finished the first half with 15 points and seven rebounds, Brandon Ingram had 12 points, six rebounds and four assists and Josh Hart had 11 points and five rebounds off the bench.
Harden was the dominant force, pumping in 26 points while Ben McLemore hurt New Orleans with 16 points off the bench.
New Orleans started on a 7-0 start to the third quarter to take a 67-65 lead. That start held up as the Pelicans led 93-92 after three quarters despite 19 turnovers. There were five lead changes and eight ties in the back-and-forth quarter.
After not scoring in the first half, Derrick Favors had nine points in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter, with the game on the line, belonged to Houston. The Pelicans scored just 16 points in the final frame, which got them beat.
Ingram had a very good game with 28 points and 12 rebounds but he did not score in the fourth quarter. Williamson went quiet in the quarter as well. No one else picked up the slack.
Williamson finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds but had just four points in the final quarter.
Jrue Holiday, who had a lousy game, had just three points in the final frame.
Holiday, the subject of trade rumors with the trade deadline approaching, had just 11 points and was 0-for-5 from 3-point range and committed four turnovers. Perhaps he is feeling the pressure of not knowing what the future holds.
What really hurt was Holiday made just 1-of-3 free throws with 2:18 left, with the Pelicans down by five points.
Hart then made just 1-of-2 with 1:49 left to cut the lead to 110-107.
It was all Rockets from that point forward.
New Orleans is 28th of 32 teams in free throw shooting percentage. That has to improve. You will not win close games missing free throws with the game on the line.
Also, the Pelicans missed their final 11 shots from 3-point range. You will never win that way, on the road, against a good team. New Orleans was just 10-of-33 beyond the arc.
Ball nearly had a triple-double. He finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. Hart had 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Harden finished with 40 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. McLemore and Russell Westbrook each had 22 points.
It was a learning experience. It was another chapter in the growing pains of a young team.
The odds of passing four teams to get to the eighth spot in the Western Conference are long. The Pelicans simply need to focus on getting better, developing better chemistry, making better decisions with the basketball and improving free throw shooting.
If you do not make the playoffs and end up in the lottery again, that is not, by any measure, the worst thing that can happen.
Next up is another stiff test against an elite team in Milwaukee and reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo at Smoothie King Center Tuesday night, providing another measuring stick for the young Pelicans. The Bucks have the best record in the NBA.
It will not be easy. No one said it would be.
It is frustrating to watch, at times. No one said it wouldn’t be that way.
Rome was not built in a day. The Pelicans will not be built in one month but I sure like the possibilities a year down the road, if not earlier.
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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…