Pelicans.com postgame: Grizzlies 90, Pelicans 88
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
You could make a convincing argument that three of the four most impressive New Orleans Pelicans victories during the 2013-14 regular season have come against the Memphis Grizzlies. The Pelicans nearly notched a fourth win over their division rivals Wednesday night, despite some unusual and unenviable circumstances. Instead, the Grizzlies turned it into one of the Pelicans’ most excruciating defeats.
Despite playing without five of their six leading scorers – including Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon, who were ruled out of action not long before tip-off due to illness – the Pelicans led 88-81 with 3:22 remaining. From there, Memphis (38-26) shut out New Orleans (26-38) during a game-closing 9-0 run. Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley capped the late surge by dropping in a decisive floater in the middle of the lane with 1.5 seconds left. With no timeouts left, partly as a result of having to use them while trying to inbound the ball earlier in the fourth quarter, the Pelicans were forced to launch a desperation heave at the buzzer that came up well shy of the hoop. As a result, New Orleans’ three-game winning streak came to an end in frustrating fashion.
“It’s tough. We felt like we had this game won,” said Pelicans guard Austin Rivers, who led the bench with 14 points and a career-high nine assists. “(Memphis is) a veteran team that has been in that position a million times. When you have a team down like that, you have to continue to execute. I think we made some stupid turnovers and some silly plays you have to learn from. It was a tough way to lose, because we fought the whole game. We played well for 45 minutes. Those last three minutes, we stopped and didn’t play well. It’s tough when you give the whole game away (in three minutes).”
New Orleans built a 57-48 halftime lead, in large part due to a dominating outing by Anthony Davis, who piled up 22 points in the opening half. Davis finished with 29 points and 10 rebounds, going 11-for-11 from the foul line.
Memphis still trailed 74-67 after the third quarter, but had already begun doing a much better job of swarming Davis when New Orleans had the ball. The Grizzlies also forced six Pelicans turnovers in the fourth quarter, a key to the late-game turnaround. During the 9-0 Memphis run that ended the game, New Orleans committed a pair of critical turnovers. The Grizzlies converted the latter miscue into a Tony Allen layup that tied the game at 88 with 1:16 to go.
With the score still deadlocked and less than 24 seconds left, Anthony Morrow launched a deep three-pointer from the left wing, but one of the NBA’s premier long-distance shooters was a bit off line.
“I felt open,” Morrow said. “I was deep, but I shoot those shots all the time. It was a tough loss. We fought really hard and defensively we played really well.”
Memphis grabbed the defensive rebound and set up Conley’s game-deciding score. The Grizzlies avoided being swept by the Pelicans, in the final matchup of the annual four-game season series. Portland is the only team New Orleans has beaten this season (in a Dec. 30 two-point thriller in the Crescent City) that has a better current record than the Grizzlies.
With Evans and Gordon joining Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday and Jason Smith on the Pelicans’ already lengthy list of unavailable players, New Orleans was missing a combined 72.5 points per game with that quintet sidelined. Memphis appeared to adjust its defensive approach as the game progressed, making it more difficult for Davis to carry the attack. The Pelicans finished at just 41.3 percent from the field and totaled 17 turnovers, against only 16 assists, a ratio that rarely results in a win in the NBA.
“Obviously when you’re missing two guys who can average 20 points a game, we had some lineups out there that we really haven’t been accustomed to,” Morrow said. “We didn’t execute the way we could have down the stretch. But you’ve got to credit Memphis. They’re a good defensive team. They got a little physical and had their hands on us and kind of sped us up.”