Pelicans drop home game to Knicks, stumble into new year

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NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Pelicans didn’t have much time to dwell on Friday’s disappointing loss to the Dallas Mavericks, with the New York Knicks visiting the Smoothie King Center on Saturday.

The Pelicans will have a bit more time to lick their wounds now, after falling to the Knicks 105-103 in their last game of 2017. New York came into the Crescent City with two roads wins before shocking the Pelicans.

Kristaps Porzingis led the Knicks with 30 points. Former Pelican Jarrett Jack and Michael Beasley added 15 points each.

Anthony Davis scored a game-high 31 for the Pelicans and blocked five shots. DeMarcus Cousins picked up his 27th double-double of the season with 29 points and 19 rebounds. Jrue Holiday (13 points) and E’Twaun Moore (12) were the only other players in double figures.

The game played out in a familiar pattern; the Pelicans fell behind early, rallied to take the lead, but made enough mistakes down the stretch to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

New Orleans finished its three-game homestand 1-2 against teams that are a combined 13-38 on the road this season and dropped back to .500 both at home and overall.

“I’m not frustrated,” said Davis, who missed a potential game-winning three-pointer on the Pelicans final possession. “We’re fine. We’re fine. We’ve just got to take care of business on the road. We’ve got to get back to playing how we were playing before; coming out with a lot of energy, but I’m not frustrated…disappointed that we dropped these two, but I’m not frustrated.”

Pelicans fans have to be frustrated as the excitement of a possible five-game win streak heading into the new year turned into yet another letdown by the home team and more of the same talking points by the players and coaches.

“I thought we played with energy,” said Head Coach Alvin Gentry. “I thought we fought the who time, and obviously we fought to get back and get ahead. It came down to closing the game, and we have to be able to close the game.”

I’d have to beg to disagree with Coach Gentry. It didn’t come down to closing the game. The Pelicans were beaten not just on the scoreboard, but across the board.

Here are the bullet points:
● The Knicks limited the Pelicans to 6-for-26 shooting on three pointers (23 percent).
● New Orleans missed six free throws, only outscoring New York by three points at the line with six more attempts.
● The Knicks won the battle on the glass, 51-48, including nine offensive rebounds compared to four for the Pelicans.
● New York’s bench dominated the Pelicans’ reserves, totalling 42 points, 24 rebounds, nine assists, and three blocked shots. New Orleans got 10 points, 12 boards, and two assists from its second unit.
● Even on a night when the Pelicans were able to take relative care of the basketball by turning it over only 10 times, the Knicks were better, giving the ball away six times.
● The Pelicans should’ve have dominated in the paint, but the Knicks outscored them there as well, 60-58.
● Lastly, New York beat the New Orleans in second chance points 15-6.

The Pelicans did climb out of a 16-point hole with a 31-14 run that extended from the 9:15 mark of the third quarter to the 11:32 mark of the fourth. New Orleans would build its lead to eight points with 2:57 remaining in the game. And then “it” happened, just as it has on too many occassions this season. The Pelicans stopped doing just about everything that got them the lead.

New Orleans didn’t make a single shot from the field during that stretch, and while they were missing, the Knicks were attacking.

Joakhim Noah, playing in only his fifth game of the season, struck the first blow with a driving, two-handed dunk off a feed from Jack. Jack then stole the ball from Rajon Rondo on the next possession and then hit a three-pointer to cut the lead in half.

A pair of Anthony Davis free throws pushed the Pelicans’ lead back to five, but Kristaps Porzingis would grab an offensive rebound after a Beasley miss and eventually hit from distance to bring the Knicks within two points at 101-99 with just over a minute to play.

That was followed by a missed jumper by AD on one end and a dunk for Porzingis on the other that tied the game. After a Cousins miss, it was Porzingis again as he buried an 18-footer that allowed the Knicks to retake the lead, 103-101. Cousins came right back at the big Lithuanian, drawing a foul and a trip to the line where he knocked down both free throws to tie the game with 27 seconds remaining.

Coming out of a timeout, New York put the ball in Jack’s hands and set up a pick and roll. He worked his way into the lane for what appeared to be a very difficult floater, but was fouled by Jrue Holiday with nine seconds on the clock. Jack calmly made both free throws to give the Knicks the lead once again.

“We tried to get the Pelicans moving and clear out the side on the last one in case Porzingis was open,” said Knicks Head Coach Jeff Horacek of the winning play. “But Jarrett came around the corner and was able to drive, having a good look and they had to foul.”

The Pelicans would call a timeout of their own, advancing the ball to midcourt. After it was inbounded to Rondo, the Knicks swarmed, forcing the Pelicans to go to their secondary option, Anthony Davis at the three point line. Davis got a clean look, but it would not go down.

“He was open,” said Cousins. “I’ve watched him make that shot many times. The greatest player of all time didn’t make every game winner. He missed. On to the next.”

“We know we didn’t need a three, but if the three was available to us, we were going to shoot it,” Gentry added. “It was a great shot. We just didn’t knock it in, but I’ll take that shot any time of the day.”

The time of day was 8:23 p.m. when Davis’ shot missed the mark.

So here we sit, on the precepice of a new year and the Pelicans are no closer to being the team their talent would indicate that they should be. The team is still too bad on defense and too dependent on offense to be anything that what they are…average. It doesn’t get any more average than 9-9 at home, 9-9 on the road, and 5-5 in their last 10 games.

The Pels still sit in the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings, but their two closest pursuers, the Clippers and Jazz, are getting healthier and playing better. Just three days ago, the conversation was centered on the Pelicans possibly hurdling a couple of teams and starting 2018 among the top six teams out west. Today, all talk is about just how cloudy the future of this team may be.

Based on the first 36 games of the season, there’s no such thing as a sure win or loss for the Pelicans. Each game is a mystery unto itself, hardly the kind of feeling you’d expect to have towards an actual contender.

Every egg was put into this basket with the expectation that this team would take a major step forward. So far it hasn’t happened, and despite what Anthony Davis may think, there isn’t a lot of basketball left. The season is nearly half over, and the room for growth at this stage isn’t very large.

They say that each new year brings with it a sense of renewed optimism and hope. Let’s all hope that the Pelicans will leave their disfunction and underachievement in 2017.

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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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