Pelicans let one slip away to Blazers despite career high by Zion
It is understandable and undeniable.
One player cannot win a team game.
Of course, Damian Lillard and Zion Williamson nearly made the case that one player can win a game Wednesday night.
Williamson is a brilliant player who’s brilliance is growing on a nightly basis. We are watching the blossoming of an NBA star, perhaps a superstar.
Against the Portland Traiblazers, Zion matched a career best with 36 points and added six rebounds and four assists. He was 12-of-18 from the field and 11-of-15 from the free throw line.
Williamson went to the bench for rest, I guess, with 7:34 to play in the game. New Orleans led 105-103 at the time.
Coaches have to have a plan for resting stars and all do so.
Facing a hot team that was hard to stop, you had to match baskets with the Blazers.
Williamson got his rest, perhaps too much rest.
He did not return until there was just 3:11 to play in the game and Portland held a 113-110 lead.
Undaunted, Williamson scored six points down the stretch, including four clutch free throws.
With 26.4 seconds left, Robert Covington fouled Williamson, who hit both free throws to give New Orleans a 124-123 lead.
With the game on the line, Portland coach Terry Stotts called the right play, putting the ball in his superstar’s hands and Dame Lillard delivered with a driving layup, beating Lonzo Ball and drawing a foul from Ball in the process. Lillard converted the 3-point play to give Portland a 126-124 lead with 16.5 seconds left, plenty of time for the Pelicans to answer.
Lillard is a superstar, a brilliant player and he was the best player on the floor, scoring 43 points with 16 assists and four rebounds.
The Pelicans have had some success in recent years against the Blazers, largely because of the presence of Jrue Holiday, who was often Kryptonite to Lillard’s Superman impersonation.
With all due respect to Ball, who drew the unenviable assignment of trying to guard Lillard, he is not Holiday on the defensive end of the floor, not close, not that anyone is going to stop Lillard. You can only hope to slow him down and New Orleans could not do so.
With the game on the line on the final possession of the game, Williamson did not touch the ball.
Ball and Brandon Ingram did touch it. Ball missed a shot and Ingram missed a final attempt with less than a second remaining.
In the final 4:53, Ingram had a turnover and missed a pair of shots.
More importantly, the offense stopped when Ingram touched the ball in the final quarter.
Yes, he is a skilled player who can get his own shot but the Pelicans are most effective moving the ball and better playing through Williamson, clearly the team’s best player now (not Ingram).
Whether Ingram, a good player, understands that is one thing.
Does Stan Van Gundy understand it?
Van Gundy stated afterwards that the plan for the final possession was a 2-man game with Ingram and Williamson but instead, it ended up being a 2-man game with Ingram and Williamson.
Incidentally, it was not Ingram’s night.
He was just 4-of-12 from the field for 14 points, a virtual non-factor.
Portland had no answer for Williamson.
With the game on the line, Williamson was a spectator on the floor and that simply makes no sense. Even if it required Williamson running toward the time- line, he needed to touch the ball as he was lethal all night driving the ball from the top of the circle to the hoop. If he was doubled, he most likely would have drawn contact or would likely have found an open teammate.
It was a hard loss to accept.
Both teams were playing the most difficult assignment of the most difficult assignment in the NBA—the second of back-to-back games where both teams had to travel following game one to the second contest.
The Blazers came in red hot, having won five straight games. Make it six straight now.
Unfortunately for the Blazers, their flight out of Oklahoma City overnight was delayed due to weather and they did not get to New Orleans until Wednesday afternoon. The Blazers appeared unfazed by the distraction. That’s what good teams do. They overcome, rather than lean on excuses.
Steven Adams went down with 2:25 to play in the opening quarter with a right ankle injury as he rolled it coming down. He would not return.
Portland took a 35-30 lead after one quarter. Each made four 3-pointers in the quarter. New Orleans shot 52.2 percent from the field but the Blazers shot 56.5 percent as Dame Lillard had 15 points and five assists in the quarter, making 3-of-5 from 3-point range.
New Orleans then exploded in the second quarter, clicking on all cylinders with multiple contributors, outscoring the Blazers 39-24 to take a 69-59 halftime lead.
Williamson finished the half with 14 points, four rebounds, four assists and a block.
Ball, who had the unenviable task of trying to guard Lillard, was superb on the offensive end with 16 points, connecting on 4-of-5 from 3-point range.
Billy Hernangomez had nine points and nine rebounds off the bench.
Lillard finished the half with 21 points and six assists.
Much like Tuesday night at Memphis, the Pelicans shot the lights out in the first half, connecting on 26-of-45 from the field (56.8%) and 10-of-16 from 3-point range (60%). For good measure, New Orleans was 7-of-8 (87.5%) from the free throw line.
The superb second quarter quickly evaporated in the third quarter as New Orleans became stagnant offensively, the Blazers got hot again and the Pelicans did not match Portland’s intensity as the Blazers outscored the Pelicans 35-22 in the quarter.
Gary Trent Jr. hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Blazers a 94-91 lead going to the final quarter. The Pelicans were just 1-of-8 from 3-point range in the quarter.
The fourth quarter saw eight lead changes before
New Orleans saw its bench perform well again, outscoring the Portland bench 41-24. The Blazers scored 19 points off 12 New Orleans turnovers. The Pelicans dominated the boards 51-31 but the Pelicans gave up 18 made 3-pointers to the Blazers.
Ball finished with 21 points and five assists, including 5-of-10 from 3-point range. JJ Redick had an outstanding game with 16 points in 20 minutes off the bench, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range.
Hernangomez had 11 points and 17 rebounds, though he was just 5-of-13 from the field.
Now, the Pelicans wait to see if Adams will miss time. If so, Jaxson Hayes will return to the rotation. He was decent off the bench against the Blazers, though he missed a dunk and a layup.
Now, the Pelicans face another tough Western Conference foe in Phoenix Friday night. The two teams have split two games, with the Suns routing the Pelicans in Phoenix and the Pelicans routing the Suns in New Orleans.
The Pelicans are never going to be a good defensive team with the current roster. They just have to be competitive, serviceable, decent. The offense is good enough, as is the rebounding, and if they can limit turnovers, there are several ways to win games, particularly if you play through your best player in crucial situations.
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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…