Pelicans.com postgame: Pelicans 98, Clippers 96
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
If facing the red-hot Los Angeles Clippers weren’t already daunting enough Wednesday, the New Orleans Pelicans entered the game with only nine players available, due to injury and illness. There were nearly as many Pelicans wearing suits as there were sporting uniforms.
With a staggering total of six players sidelined, including the team’s projected first-, second- and third-string point guards in 2013-14, a few major adjustments were necessary. Darius Miller played point guard for the first time since he was a precocious kindergartner growing up in Kentucky. A fill-in starter, Anthony Morrow prepared for the possibility that he’d have to log close to 48 minutes of playing time.
Incredibly, despite everything stacked against them – and only so-so performances from their top guns Anthony Davis and Tyreke Evans – the Pelicans still managed to beat the Clippers, in one of the most unlikely outcomes of the NBA regular season. You would’ve thought New Orleans (31-40) needed superhuman games by Davis and Evans to even have a chance to win, but the duo combined for just 26 points on 10-for-35 shooting.
Contributions from several role players, most prominently Morrow, Miller and backup center Alexis Ajinca, enabled the Pelicans to knock off one of the NBA’s elite teams. Despite being even more short-handed than usual recently, New Orleans has put together a season-high four-game winning streak, highlighted by victories over the Heat, Nets and Clippers.
“We’ve got a great group of guys who continue to compete at a high level with a number of things against us,” Pelicans Coach Monty Williams said. “Not only did we beat a good team, we beat a team that’s got a chance to win a title… I can’t say enough about our group. It felt like a playoff game in there tonight. I think it started this morning with our shootaround, just telling the guys about competing at a high level. You never know what can happen. If you believe you’re going to lose, you have no shot. From that point on, our guys just stepped it up.”
En route to his best game as a Pelican, Morrow staked New Orleans to a 55-52 halftime lead by pouring in 20 points. He finished with a team-high 27. In another example of how valuable Morrow has been this season despite the fact that any NBA team could’ve signed the perimeter shooter last summer, he set the tone for the Pelicans’ upset by tallying 11 quick points in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, Miller finished with a season-high 16 points, including nine in the fourth quarter. The second-year University of Kentucky product made one of the biggest baskets of the game, a leaning jumper that gave New Orleans a 97-92 lead with 46 seconds left. The Clippers got within 97-94 and later had a chance to tie when Blake Griffin converted an and-one layup with 10.5 seconds to go. However, Griffin missed the free throw, his sixth errant toss in 15 attempts.
Davis grabbed the defensive rebound and was fouled, making one of two free throws. Down 98-96 with time about to expire, Clippers guard Jamal Crawford (game-high 31 points, seven three-pointers) misfired on a deep trifecta, allowing the Pelicans to celebrate another hard-fought victory.
“We just wanted to come out and compete hard, not really think about who we were playing against,” Miller said. “A lot of guys were out. We’ve been doing this all year. I happened to have a good game, but I feel like everybody did, and that was the reason we won.”
Like Miller, Ajinca (14 points, 11 rebounds) came off the bench and provided a much-needed spark for New Orleans. The 7-foot-2 center often scores a chunk of his points on mid-range jumpers, but he responded to the challenge of a formidable Clippers frontcourt with an aggressive offensive game. Ajinca threw down three dunks, including both of his first-half baskets.
The Pelicans also overcame the unexpected obstacle of Davis being saddled with foul trouble in the first half, which forced him to the sideline for a lengthy stretch. Even without their best player and All-Star – along with trying to figure out how to run an offense that lacked point guards Jrue Holiday, Brian Roberts and Austin Rivers – the Pelicans were able to slightly outplay a much more experienced Clippers squad. New Orleans’ defense held All-Star point guard Chris Paul to 0-for-12 shooting, the worst single-game accuracy by a Clippers player in their franchise history.
“Top to bottom, I’m really proud of (our) guys,” Morrow said. “Jeff Withey, Alexis, (Davis), Tyreke. Those guys did a great job.”