Pelicans’ season ends with play-in loss to Thunder, 123-118
All season long, it was a roller coaster ride, a series of ups and downs.
That was the case with the New Orleans Pelicans Wednesday night.
The night was a real downer.
Despite a season of promise, this was a disappointing season of simply falling short, regardless of how you view it and regardless of circumstances with injuries.
As a favorite at home, the Pelicans failed in the second half, particularly in the third quarter and in the final minute in a 123-118 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
This was a loss at home, as a favorite, to a team the Pelicans had beaten three out of four games.
It would be understandable if the Pelicans lost to a seasoned, winning team.
The Thunder finished the season 40-42. They are the second youngest team in the league.
In crunch time, Brandon Ingram had a turnover, a missed field goal and a missed free throw while CJ McCollum also missed a shot. Down two points with two seconds left, Herb Jones committed a careless turnover in an inbound pass and it was game over.
After Ingram made a 17-footer with 1:21 to play in the game to give New Orleans a 114-112 lead, the key players for New Orleans simply did not come through.
The Pelicans trailed 32-29 after one quarter but turned it on in the second quarter to take a 63-57 halftime lead.
Then came the third quarter.
Then came Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
After scoring just seven points in the first half, Gilgeous Alexander dominated the third quarter, scoring 17 points, taking over the game as Oklahoma City took over the game. The Thunder did anything they wanted on the offensive end, blitzing the Pelicans 39-24 to take a 96-87 lead heading to the fourth quarter.
The Pelicans came out with a purpose to start the fourth quarter, going on a 9-2 run to cut the deficit to 98-96 and would eventually take a lead as it went back and forth.
Jonas Valanciunas, who played very well, went out with what appeared to be an ankle injury with 4:26 to play with the game tied 106-106. He would not return until the final seconds.
Shut down by good defense by the Thunder, Ingram scored his first points of the fourth quarter on a put-back dunk of his own miss with 3:12 to play in the game to give New Orleans a 110-108 lead, setting the stage for the close by the Thunder.
The Thunder scored 21 points off 11 New Orleans turnovers. The Pelicans were outscored 58-52 in the paint.
New Orleans had beaten Oklahoma City three of four times in the regular season but all three wins were close games, including one overtime contest.
This was no big surprise.
Ingram had 30 points with seven assists and six rebounds. Murphy had 21 points but did not score in the fourth quarter. Jones had 20 points, five rebounds and five assists. Valanciunas was a beast with 16 points and 18 rebounds, going 7 of 9 from the field. It would have been advisable to get him more shots.
In a big game, New Orleans needed its veteran leader to perform well but McCollum did not, going just 5 of 15 from the field, including just 1 of 5 from three-point range while scoring just 14 points.
Gilgeous-Alexander led all scorers with 32 points while Josh Giddey had 31 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. Lugentz Dort finished with 27 points.
The Pelicans put themselves in this position by blowing a 14-point lead in Minnesota.
They could not hold a halftime lead at home in this one.
This team needs to mature, get tougher and must make a decision moving forward on Zion Williamson, who cast a shadow over this team by not being available to play since early January and by saying he was not going to play until he felt like himself.
While Williamson is a nice young man, his comments were ill-advised and were predictably, poorly received.
Coaches, teammates and fans want star players to show up and play hard when it matters most.
The season was on the line.
Williamson did not put it on the line, regardless of whether he was rusty or may not have played to his optimum level.
The numbers are clear.
Williamson has played in just 37 percent of the Pelicans games over four seasons since joining the team. That includes missing an entire season. That includes missing 53 games this season. Williamson has played in just 114 games. Williamson has missed 194 games.
Like virtually everyone else, I am tired of answering questions about Williamson. The questions will only grow until he proves he can play and play consistently, without missing enormous amounts of games, which his career has been all about, to this point.
Ingram is a very good player but not a superstar. McCollum is a solid player but not a star. Valanciunas is a nice big man but not a star. Trey Murphy, who scored 21 points but went silent in the fourth quarter, has a good future. So does Herb Jones.
If the New Orleans Pelicans are going to take a step forward to be taken seriously, they need a healthy Williamson, who could be a superstar. Frankly, who knows if that is possible?
In the meantime, the reality of the situation is clear.
The season is over.
It was not a success.
Last season, with virtually the same players, the Pelicans beat the Spurs then beat the Clippers in the play-in round to reach the playoffs.
A year later, New Orleans went out in the first play-in game.
Despite winning more regular season games, you cannot say that this season reflected progress, with or without Williamson. They were without him last year and advanced.
It is back to the drawing board and there is a lot to draw to create a different, look, atmosphere and result. This one was not a pretty picture.
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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…