Pelicans.com postgame: Rockets 103, Pelicans 100
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
After Wednesday’s narrow defeat to yet another division rival, the New Orleans Pelicans have now lost seven consecutive games, a losing streak that could easily be split into two distinct pieces. Starting Jan. 4 at Indiana, there were four losses in which the Pelicans were clearly outplayed, including double-digit defeats to the Pacers, Heat and Mavericks. Over the past three games, however, the Pelicans have had plenty of chances to prevail, but instead dropped nail-biting matchups with Southwest Division foes Dallas, San Antonio and Houston – by a combined 12 points.
In similar fashion to Saturday’s 110-107 loss at Dallas, on Wednesday the Pelicans had a chance to force overtime in the final seconds, but a three-point attempt by a reserve didn’t fall. Four days after a controversial ending in which Austin Rivers couldn’t muster much of a shot while being grabbed by Mavericks defender Monta Ellis, this time second-unit forward Darius Miller missed a potential tying trey from the right wing. Houston (26-14) dribbled out the final seconds, wrapping up a come-from-behind victory in which the Rockets had trailed by as many as 17 points.
A frustrating third straight what-could-have-been game for the Pelicans began in encouraging fashion, with the hosts grabbing a 30-19 lead through a quarter and maintaining the 11-point edge by halftime at 56-45. Houston still trailed 94-86 with just 4:41 remaining, but put together a 14-5 run to finally take the lead at 100-99 with 57 seconds left. Anthony Davis sank a free throw to tie it with 47 seconds remaining, but James Harden nailed a clutch stepback jumper in a 2-for-1 situation, making it Rockets 102-100 at 0:28. After Chandler Parsons tacked on a free throw with 11 seconds to go, the Pelicans drew up a play in which Miller received a good look at the rim, but misfired.
“It felt good to me,” Miller said of the game-ending attempt. “I think (the team was) confident I would make it too. It just didn’t happen to go in.”
The heartbreaking defeat spoiled perhaps the best performance of Eric Gordon’s three seasons in a New Orleans uniform. With the Pelicans missing his fellow starting guard, Jrue Holiday, as well as No. 1 scorer Ryan Anderson and bench catalyst Tyreke Evans, Gordon responded by pouring in 35 points, his highest-scoring game since joining New Orleans for the 2011-12 season. He racked up 22 points during the Pelicans’ outstanding first half Wednesday, then tacked on 11 more in the third quarter. He only managed two points in the fourth quarter as the Rockets began committing more defenders to deny the red-hot Gordon from catching the ball. On New Orleans’ final possession, Pelicans Coach Monty Williams was mindful of Houston’s defensive focus, deciding to use Gordon to draw defensive attention away from the rest of the floor.
“Toward the end of the game we were just trying to figure out who could get the best shot off,” Gordon said. “Sometimes we used me as a decoy. They did a lot of denying and whenever I touched the ball toward the end, they started double-teaming. In the fourth quarter, (the strategy) was a mixture of trying to get me the ball and sometimes using me as a decoy to throw them off.”
While playing without three of its top five scorers, New Orleans will likely need big scoring games from Gordon and Davis in order to compete, particularly while facing a relentless schedule filled with Western Conference opponents (Golden State is next on Saturday at the New Orleans Arena). Davis added 24 points, meaning he and Gordon combined for 59 of the team’s 100 points. The Pelicans also outrebounded the Rockets 44-38 and held a 14-10 bench scoring advantage, but it still wasn’t quite enough against another high-caliber opponent.