Pelicans use defense late to overcome Cousins ejection, beat Thunder 114-107

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It looked like the same script.

Last Friday night, the Pelicans fell behind Denver 25-6 and never truly recovered, giving up a league high 146 points in an embarrassing road loss.

Monday night, the Pelicans hosted Oklahoma City and immediately fell behind 25-6 once again. In the midst of consistent wide open looks, the Thunder sank 3-point shots with relative ease as they appeared to be on their way to an easy win at New Orleans. At the half, it was 65-57 with the Thunder still enjoying a good working margin.

The turning point came in the third quarter.

With five minutes remaining in the period, Oklahoma City led 77-72 when Demarcus Cousins threw a vicious elbow which connected with the head of Russell Westbrook.

While Westbrook sold the call, the officials made the correct call of a Flagrant-2 foul on Cousins and he was ejected from the game.

Rather than sulk about losing one of its two stars, the Pelicans clamped down on defense, got better ball movement and better shot selection offensively and rallied to win 114-107.

Without Cousins, New Orleans outscored the Thunder 42-30 the rest of the way for a solid, important win.

It was important in many ways.

First, it was against a team that New Orleans will compete with all year in the Western Conference playoff chase.

Second, it came on a night when it looked like the team would again fall short defensively and fall under .500, where it has basically been for the last three seasons.

Third, it came after the ejection of Cousins.

Make no mistake about it.

Cousins is a very important part of this team, an elite talent who on a given night can look the part of the best center in the NBA.

On other nights, he looks frustrated, distracted, and out of sync and out of sorts.

Cousins broods quite a bit. He complains a lot. His body language can be misleading but it is certainly an issue with officials, as is his attitude.

He has made a concerted effort to overcome his natural emotions and passion for the game but he has to be smarter. This is nothing new, rather a much repeated statement since he entered the league in 2010.

Cousins is a marvelous athlete with many gifts. He can shoot it pretty well for a big man but not well enough to be stationed 25 feet away from the basket frequently and not enough to catch and shoot it from that distance on his first touch down the floor, as he does quite a bit.

For the record, Cousins is shooting under 33 percent from 3-point range. He is shooting over 54 percent from inside the arc.

Additionally, he gets to the free throw line a ton, virtually always when he is playing around or in the painted area, averaging 7.5 free throw attempts per game.

Does Alvin Gentry have the clout or nerve to rein in Cousins?

Can he discipline him for his actions? Can he trim down his 3-point attempts, which often stop the offense, resulting in defensive rebounds and quick, empty possessions? He was 0-for-5 from 3-point range against the Thunder.

This is not to suggest that Cousins should never take a 3-point shot. There are good shots and bad shots, depending on the flow of the offense, what the defense is giving and taking away and the time remaining on the shot clock.

The Pelicans are not the Houston Rockets or the Golden State Warriors, with shooters all over the floor and speed all over the floor. They are team built around a pair of elite big men.

Speaking of big men, Anthony Davis picked up the slack, scoring 36 points and pulling down 15 rebounds after passing a concussion protocol test and being allowed to play. That is the good news.

The bad news is that Davis played 45 minutes, all but three minutes, an alarming total at this stage of the season. That was a direct result of Cousins not being available.

New Orleans needs both of its big men available for 35-40 minutes per game. Cousins must understand this as Davis does.

Otherwise, credit Darius Miller, Jameer Nelson and Tony Allen with outstanding efforts off of the much maligned New Orleans bench.

Miller was 3-for-4 from 3-point range, scoring 11 points in 22 minutes. Nelson was 4-for-5, scoring nine points and dishing out four assists in 18 minutes. Allen returned from injury and six points and six rebounds in 18 minutes.

Rajon Rondo had eight assists, playing a season high 31 minutes. His vision and passing is still at an exceptional level. Jrue Holiday was solid with 18 points. E’Twaun Moore returned to the starting lineup as New Orleans went small and contributed 12 points.

New Orleans overcame 19 turnovers and won the battle of the boards 49-40 to climb back above .500 at 9-8.

Now comes a battle with the always tough San Antonio Spurs Wednesday night. The Pelicans cannot afford another slow start and cannot afford to have Cousins launching a barrage of 3-pointers and missing time. There is no doubt that he has the memo. Let us see if he abides by it.

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Ken Trahan


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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 with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…

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