Pelicans fend off Clippers to secure 3-0 start

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For the first time this season, the New Orleans Pelicans didn’t put up numbers normally found in an All-Star game or on the “Rookie” setting of NBA2K; but they found a way to hold off a tougher-than-expected Los Angeles Clippers team, 116-109.

New Orleans trailed 62-59 at the half, but a 25-8 run to open the third quarter gave the Pelicans the lead for good and their sixth ever 3-0 start.

The Pelicans were challenged by a team capable of blocking their flight path and survived slow offensive nights by Jrue Holiday and Niko Mirotic.

“That backcourt is going to be as good as a defensive backcourt that we’re going to see the whole year,” said Head Coach Alvin Gentry. “From the standpoint of getting into you, trying to direct the ball, and trying to disrupt what you’re doing. They’re really, really good at it.”

Patrick Beverly and Avery Bradley, along with the Clippers’ very active front court, helped limit New Orleans to not only its lowest scoring output of the season, but lows in field goal attempts, shooting percentage, three point attempts and percentage, and assists.

The Pelicans struggled all night to find their way, frustrating Gentry with their impatience.

I thought we started the game okay, and then I thought we got a little – we decided we were going make one pass and shoot it, or one pass and post up,” he said of the team’s offense. “We weren’t playing the way we were supposed to be playing, and I think that’s what got us in trouble. No ball movement. We’re not a 22-assist team. We’re a 26- or 28- or 30-assist team, but we’re not a 22-assist team. And I thought we got kind of caught up with the quick shooting. First of all, you know we want to push the basketball, and you know if the shot is there, fine. But to just run down there and take the quick three-point shots, that’s not who we are and that’s what we’ve got to get out of our game.”

Still, they got the win. How often does a team score 113 points and consider it a disappointment?

Anthony Davis was the stat sheet filler with 34 points, 13 rebounds, and five blocked shots. Elfrid Payton came up big with 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting, including a three that put the game out of reach.

New Orleans also made 30 out of its season-high 40 free throw attempts.

A year ago, there would have been legitimate cause for concern when Los Angeles closed to within five points with just over two minutes remaining. This year’s Pels scored on four of their final five possessions

“We battled,” said Davis. “They went on a run. You know we countered that with our own run and got defensive stops and were able to make some big shots on the other end and get stops on the defensive end. So it was the first time we had to be in dog fight in the fourth quarter. I think for the first time, our guys handled it well.”

There was no way to believe that the Pelicans would blow every opponent off the court. Eventually they would have to grind one out. They did that against the Clippers.

Those types of efforts are possible when a team possesses the number of scoring options that the Pelicans do. After three games, five different players have scored 20 points or more.

“It speaks a lot for the talent on this team,” said Payton. “It makes it hard to game plan against us when you have so many guys that can go get twenty points on any given night. It speaks for the talent that we have here.”

It may be the most talented top of the roster in the Western Conference outside of Golden State. Winning a game like last night’s, in the manner that they did, could be very important for the Pelicans down the road.

Defensively, the Pelicans once again showed they could clamp down when they absolutely had to. Los Angeles scored 47 points in the second half. Payton, Holiday, and Solomon Hill ratcheted up the pressure, with the heavily scrutinized Hill making his most significant contributions of the young season with four steals, three rebounds, and a blocked shot.

The Pelicans had their first true fight of the season, took a punch, and scored a split decision.

They say character is revealed in times of adversity. New Orleans gave us our first glance at theirs last night.

“I know we have a competitive group, but you still have to go out there and show it,” said Payton. “It was great to see that tonight, but it is not always going to be like this. This is the first of many like this, so we need to build on it and be able to handle this situation when it is presented again.”

The Pelicans finish their four-game home stand with games against the Brooklyn Nets on Friday and the Utah Jazz on Saturday. Both should be interesting early-season tests for a team that continues to surprise.

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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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