Pelicans rout Blazers to continue upward trend, 138-117
Facing a hot team the Pelicans must catch to have a shot at a Western Conference playoff spot, things looked quite dim for New Orleans early on at Smoothie King Center Tuesday night against Portland.
Fortunately for the Pelicans and their growing fan base, the start was about the only thing lacking in a brilliant performance as New Orleans dominated the final three quarters in a 138-117 victory over the Blazers.
Without Brandon Ingram available, Zion Williamson had a breakout game with a career-high 31 points plus nine rebounds and five assists.
After starting well, the Pelicans became a turnover machine, making terrible pass after terrible pass as Portland blitzed New Orleans, going on a 17-0 run as it opened up a pair of 16-point leads in the first quarter. The Blazers scored nine points off four New Orleans turnovers.
The Pelicans closed the quarter on an 8-1 run to cut the deficit to 36-27. Jrue Holiday had eight points while JJ Redick had seven off the bench. Portland had six offensive rebounds in the quarter while New Orleans shot just 33 percent from the field.
The best was yet to come.
After New Orleans closed within four points at 36-32, Portland went on an 8-0 run early in the second quarter to lead 44-32.
New Orleans scored on seven straight possessions and cut the deficit to 65-63 by halftime.
Williamson had 13 points in the second quarter and 17 in the first half, along with five rebounds and two assists. The New Orleans bench came up huge, outscoring Portland reserves 24-7. The Pelicans outscored the Blazers 16-8 from the free throw line.
The Pelicans shared the ball well, accumulating 19 assists on 21 made shots.
The Pelicans played a brilliant third quarter – one of their best, if not their best quarter of the season. New Orleans outscored Portland 41-21 to take a commanding 104-86 lead going to the final frame.
Josh Hart was superb in the quarter with 10 points and three rebounds. JJ Redick got hot as well, hitting consecutive 3-pointers.
New Orleans continued its fine play in the final quarter. The Pelicans were able to play everyone down the stretch and after growing the lead to 24 points with 9:30 left, Portland coach Terry Stotts pulled all of his starters.
It was a total team effort, accentuated by six players finishing in double figures.
Redick had 20 points off the bench, Hart finished with 17 points, Holiday had 16 points and 10 assists. Frank Jackson had an excellent game, one of his best, with 13 points and five assists and Nicol Melli had 10 points and eight rebounds.
New Orleans shot 53 percent from the field and outrebounded Portland 50-40. The Pelicans, who have struggled at the free throw line often, shined at the stripe, connecting on 26-of-32 attempts (81%). The Pelicans displayed great spacing and great ball movement, evidenced by 40 assists on 49 made shots.
Equally as impressive was the defense on Damian Lillard, who came in averaging 40 points per game in his last 10 games and 29 points per game on the season.
Lillard was held to 20 points on 6-of-16 shooting, including 0-of-4 from 3-point range, as Holiday once again hounded him and continues to be Kryptonite for a guy that has been Superman of late. Lillard had made at least one three-pointer in 23 straight games – coincidentally, since an 0-for-10 against New Orleans on Dec. 23 in Portland.
Williamson has now scored at least 20 points in seven of his first nine professional games.
What was most impressive was that with Williamson on the floor, New Orleans was plus-25. Also impressive is that he was 11-of-14 from the free throw line, where he will find himself frequently with his physical, dominant low-post game.
One of the elements that you have to like is that in the chase for a playoff spot, the Pelicans are now 3-0 against Portland and 2-0 against Memphis, two teams they must catch.
Now 23-31, and on a three-game winning streak, next up for the Pelicans – the final game before the all-star break – is a home game against a good, surprising Oklahoma City squad at home Thursday night. The Thunder have handled the Pelicans, winning all three meetings this season but this is the first time they will face Williamson. There is a good chance that Ingram will return as well.
It is getting interesting and getting fun watching these Pelicans play and grow as they continue to trend upward.
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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…