Short-handed Pelicans stage stirring comeback to beat Cavs
Short-handed once again, the New Orleans Pelicans hosted a much-improved Cleveland Cavaliers squad Tuesday night.
With Josh Hart and Nickeil Alexander-Walker both out, among others, the Pelicans were forced to start newcomer Gary Clark at guard.
In one of the most unusual, momentum-changing and exciting games of the season, the Pelicans overcame not having so many key players and overcame a huge deficit in a 108-104 victory.
With the game on the line in the final minute, New Orleans calmly drilled all six free throw attempts, including four by Jonas Valanciunas and two by Devonte’ Graham.
All things considered, this was the best win of the season with seven players watching who could not play.
Cleveland jumped all over the Pelicans in the first quarter, scoring the first nine points of the game and continued to blister the nets to take a commanding 39-20 lead. At one point, the Pelicans trailed by 23 points in the first half before New Orleans rallied to cut the deficit to 59-49 by halftime.
Herb Jones was terrific in the first half, keeping New Orleans in the game with 17 points, three rebounds, two assists and two blocks.
New Orleans continued to chip away in the third quarter and trailed 84-77 going to the fourth quarter.
The Pelicans did not lead in the game until the 3:18 mark of the fourth quarter when Garrett Temple nailed a 3-pointer to give New Orleans a 99-97 lead.
The Pelicans would not trail again.
Graham hit a big 3-pointer, his first of the game, to make it 102-97 with 1:30 to play in the game.
After Kevin Love cut the deficit to 102-101 on a 3-pointer with 46 seconds remaining, Valanciunas was clutch, hitting four consecutive free throws to make it 106-101 with 4.8 seconds left.
Love again drilled a 3-pointer to make it 106-104 with 1.5 seconds left.
The Cavaliers fouled Graham immediately and he knocked down both free throws to provide the margin of victory.
The work ethic is clear.
As mentioned in the loss at Oklahoma City, this New Orleans team is playing extremely hard for Willie Green, who did an outstanding job of coaching, changing tactics and defensive matchups and watching his players execute and simply will their way to a big win over a good, long, much improved Cleveland squad.
The Cavs suffered a terrible break late when Ricky Rubio, who had dominated the game, went down with an apparent knee injury and was carried off. Rubio finished with 27 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists.
Herb Jones was terrific for New Orleans, scoring a career-high 26 points with seven rebounds and three assists and, as always, defended in outstanding fashion. Is there any rookie in the league with more value than Jones, considering his solid two-way game and where he was chosen in the draft (35th)?
Temple came up big with 17 points, including 5-of-6 from 3-point range. Graham had 18 points five assists and five rebounds. Valanciunas had another double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Gary Clark started and scored 12 points.
It was the second largest comeback win in franchise history.
The Pelicans have now won five of their last six games.
Now 13-22, the Pelicans get a break before playing at defending NBA champion Milwaukee Saturday.
Clearly, the hope is that the Pelicans can get a key player or two back for that one.
The Bucks will be looking for payback after a 116-112 overtime loss at New Orleans on Dec. 17. Of course, Giannis Antetekounmpo and Khris Middleton did not play that night.
With lots of rest, you can expect the Pelicans to show up and play hard.
That has become a staple of this group under Green, making it a worthy product to watch.
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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…