Pelicans overcome turnovers, take down Bucks
NEW ORLEANS — Playing their last home game for two weeks, the New Orleans Pelicans delivered a 115-108 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks at the Smoothie King Center Wednesday night. The win snapped Milwaukee’s three-game winning streak.
DeMarcus Cousins had 26 points and 13 rebounds, while Anthony Davis scored 25 and hauled in 10 boards after sitting out Monday night’s game against the Houston Rockets.
Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo led all scorers with 32 points to go along with nine rebounds. Khris Middleton added 15 points and 10 assists for the Bucks.
It wasn’t an easy win for the Pelicans, who improved to 15-14 on the season, 8-7 at home. New Orleans turned the ball over 21 times (nine by Cousins), leading to 24 points for the Bucks. But the Pelicans were able to close this one out by limiting Milwaukee to 45 second half points, and with some lights out shooting.
“I thought our defense really picked up, really about the last nine minutes of the game,” said Head Coach Alvin Gentry. “I kept saying to the guys ‘we’ve just got to keep playing.’”
New Orleans, the NBA’s second best shooting team at 48.8 percent per game, lit Milwaukee up to the tune of 56.3% on the night, including 13-25 on three-pointers. E’Twaun Moore continued his strong play with 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting (4-6 on three point attempts). Over his last eight games, Moore is averaging 17.9 points and has made 29 of 43 three pointers, a scorching 67 percent during that stretch.
Darius Miller also stayed hot by knocking down two of his three from distance, making at least two three-pointers in 18 of his last 21 games.
But it was the Bucks who held a 63-62 halftime lead as Antetokounmpo scored 21 points in the first half and Milwaukee capitalized on the Pelicans’ carelessness with the ball.
Moore got going at the start of the third quarter, scoring the first seven points for the Pelicans to make the score 69-70 with 9:16 to go in the periord.
Rajon Rondo would put New Orleans back in the lead by stealing an Eric Bledsoe pass and taking it the other way before dishing to Jrue Holiday for the lay in. Holiday would finish with 16 points and eight assists.
A 7-2 Milwaukee run would put the Bucks back in front 81-76, but New Orleans would close the quarter on a 12-4 run of its own, giving the Pelicans an 87-85 advantage heading into the fourth.
The Bucks would surge out of the gate in the fourth, retaking the lead 94-87 with a 9-0 spurt over the first two minutes of the frame.
However, the Pelicans would not fold. Over the next four minutes, four different players would score for the Pels as they went on another 12-4 run to go up 102-98 midway through the fourth.
Then, Cousins went to work inside. Off of a Jameer Nelson missed three, Boogie would grab the offensive board and power up for a rim-shaking slam to push the Pelicans advantage to five. On New Orleans’ next possesion he would find Jrue Holiday for a layup making it 108-101.
Milwaukee would cut the lead back down to four after Middleton drained three free throws with 1:21 to play, but Cousins would deliver a dagger on the Pelicans’ next possession. Nelson found him with room and Boogie’s three splashed through the net with 23 seconds to go to seal the deal.
Nelson’s assist was the 35th of the game for the Pelicans, a new season-high for the team. New Orleans ranks second in the league in assists per game (26.4).
“I think we are clicking well offensively,” Cousins added. “We know every possession counts, so we always look for the best shot each possession.”
It was a much-needed win for the Pelicans, who now must hit the road for four straight games. Denver, Washington, Orlando, and Miami all find themselves in the thick of the playoff chase and will make it difficult for a team that sits 7-7 away from home.
New Orleans will be looking for a repeat of the results it got from its last four-game road trip, when they won 3 of 4 back in early November.
Though still dealing with an incredibly high number of turnovers and a defense that gives up points in bunches, the Pelicans have shown that their offense is one of the very best in the league. If Moore, Holiday, and Miller continue to shoot as they have in recent weeks, the questions about the team’s offensive balance may be answered.
Perhaps Santa can find the Pelicans while their away from home for Christmas and put a little defense in the team’s stocking.
“I think teams are kind of shying away from the defensive aspect of the game,” said Cousins, “just trying to outscore on another If you can score at a decent rate and also get stops…if you are at a decent rate, you don’t even have to be that great, just have a decent rate…you’ll most likely win the game.”
Decent would be a great step up for the Pelicans, who remain second-worst in points allowed and 27th out of 30 teams in defensive rating. But any effort that brings the Pelicans closer to the league average could be the impetus for an extended stretch of winning basketball.
That would be the best gift the team could give its fans this holiday season.
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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…