Rondo’s career-high 25 assists fuel Pelicans in win over Nets

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NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Pelicans returned home Wednesday night full of holiday cheer after closing their four-game road trip with wins over Orlando and Miami and climbing back over the .500 mark.

Rajon Rondo in particular showed that he was still in the giving mood, handing out a career-high and franchise record 25 assists, as the Pelicans pummeled the Brooklyn Nets 128-113 at the Smoothie King Center.

The Pelicans finished the game with a team-record 40 assists on 48 made baskets as they picked up their third consecutive win, improving to 18-16 on the season.

Head Coach Alvin Gentry is seeing his vision come to fruition as the Pelicans sit second in the NBA in assists per game.

“I thought the most impressive thing was that, if you look at the way we moved the basketball, we had 48 baskets and we got 40 assists,” said Gentry. “That’s telling me that we are looking for open guys. We passed up some good shots to try to get great shots. I thought we did a really, really good job of moving the basketball and when you do that, obviously, you can shoot a high percentage. Once again, we were over 50% from the field and 50% from the three-point line.”

One of the main beneficiaries of that sharing of the basketball was Anthony Davis. AD led a quartet of Pelicans who scored at least 20 points, posting a game-high 33 points, while grabbing 11 rebounds (4 offensive) and blocking a season-high six shots. Davis tied another career-high by making four three-pointers.

DeMarcus Cousins had 27 points and 14 rebounds for his 26th double-double of the season. Jrue Holiday added 23 points and E’Twaun Moore continued his torrid shooting, scoring 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting (4-5 from distance).

But it was Rajon Rondo’s night as he posted the highest assist total by any player since Jason Kidd had 25 for the Dallas Mavericks back in 1996. It was the third time in his career that Rondo handed out at least 23 assists in a game. He is among elite company with the likes of Hall of Famers John Stockton (8x), Magic Johnson (4x), and Isiah Thomas (2x) as the only players to achieve that total more than once, and is one of only seven players to ever reach the 25 assist plateau.

“The number one thing is we got the win,” Rondo said. “I love passing the ball. I think when everyone touches the ball, it gives you energy and life on defense. So, that’s why I’m a big believer in getting everybody touches.”

“It was cool,” said Cousins of Rondo’s performance, tongue planted firmly in cheek. “Solid. He did his job. When you got a guy like AD and myself, why wouldn’t you pass it?”

“But nah, I had a previous stint with him in Sacramento and I thought I’d seen some of his best performances and even his days with the Celtics, but just to watch him come out here and do this tonight with, basically ease, it is just a testimony to his talent.”

It was Rondo who got the Pelicans going right out of the gate, handing out assists on five of the team’s first eight baskets. As a group, New Orleans recorded assists on 10 of their 11 field goals in the quarter as they built a 31-23 lead after one.

“We take pride in what we do offensively and it starts with our defensive effort,” Rondo said. “We were able to get stops tonight and that led to easy buckets in transition. We knew those guys played last night, so we wanted to come out with a defensive mentality, get some stops and open up on the offensive end of the floor and make the game a lot easier and fun for us.”

New Orleans took great care of the basketball as well. The Pelicans didn’t commit their first turnover of the game until almost halfway through the second quarter and finished the game with 10, tying their season-low.

With the offense firing on all cylinders and without the live ball turnovers that have plagued the Pels all season, New Orleans outscored the Nets 38-23 in the second quarter. Anthony Davis had 12 points in the period, and he got plenty of help with Darius Miller and Jrue Holiday scoring eight points each and DeMarcus Cousins adding seven more. Rondo had six assists in the quarter and 11 at the break.

“The way he sees the floor is truly amazing,” said Davis. “He always puts the ball where it needs to be. It’s never low or never too high, it’s always in the shooting pocket.”

The Pelicans shot 62 percent from the floor and made 6-of-9 three-pointers while holding Brooklyn to nine made field goals and forcing seven turnovers. At the half New Orleans led by 23 and seemed ready to earn a technical knockout over the hapless Nets.

“Tonight we just did not have the defensive mentality and defensive discipline to get stops,” said Brooklyn Head Coach Kenny Atkinson. “They are a potent offensive team…They got us in the paint and they really hurt us at the the three-point.”

New Orleans continued to pour it on in the third quarter. Rondo found Cousins down low to open the scoring, and the Pelicans were able to build the lead up to as many as 33 points with 3:15 to play in the period. Up 91-58, Gentry went to his bench hoping they could maintain the lead.

Brooklyn seized the opportunity, closing the quarter on a 17-0 run sparked by four three-pointers, making it 91-75 heading into the fourth. New Orleans reserves played a combined 21 minutes in the third but failed to score a single point and grabbed a total of two rebounds, forcing Gentry to send his starters back out onto the court.

That group quickly re-established its dominance, opening the final period on a 15-3 run. Rondo had three assists during that stretch, pushing his total at that point to 18; finding Holiday for a floater in the paint, hitting Moore on the run for a beautiful reverse layup, and tossing a lob to Davis for the alley oop. In just over four minutes the lead grew from 16 to 26.

Rajon Rondo finally got into the scoring column himself with a layup that put the Pelicans up 108-83 with 7:15 remaining. He quickly switched back into pass mode by finding Jrue Holiday for a trio of baskets that extended the lead to 28 points.

Gentry again called Davis, Cousins, and Holiday to the bench, knowing that time was no longer on the Nets’ side. But Rondo and Moore remained on the floor. Assists number 22 and 23 went to Moore. Rondo then found Ian Clark for three for assist 24. Finally, after a Dante Cunningham steal, Chieck Diallo took the feed from Rondo and buried a 10-foot jumper, giving Rajon Rondo his 25th assist of the night. Just over a minute later, Jameer Nelson checked in for the Pelicans’ point guard as he walked to the sidelines under thunderous applause.

“It wasn’t just me,” said Rondo. “It was our team, a collective effort of us. The ball was hopping and we were making plays for one another.”

“I just said ‘great job’”., Gentry said of his remarks to Rondo. “I thought he did a good job of still trying to find the open man. I don’t think he was hunting for assists. I think he was just playing and it got to that number right there. I think it’s great for him. I think we missed some easy shots that could have put him in a position to have the NBA record (30 assists), but, to me, just winning the game was great, and I thought we took care of business right from the start to finish, other than that little spot there in the third quarter where we kind of let them get back in the game.”

All season long Gentry has preached the importance of his team playing a complete 48 minutes. Wednesday’s performance was as close as the team has gotten to meeting that goal. With two games remaining before the end of 2017, the Pelicans have a chance to fly into the new year with the wind at their backs.

“Guys are playing with confidence now,” added Davis. “Guys are starting to figure out their roles and what they need to do to be successful and help this team win.”

New Orleans will look to pick up a fourth straight win for the first time this season when they face the Dallas Mavericks (11-25) Friday night in the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans defeated the Mavs in Dallas, 99-94, back on November 3.

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David Grubb

David Grubb

Featured Columnist

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…

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