Pelicans.com postgame: Rockets 107, Pelicans 98
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
HOUSTON – They could blame a 32-8 disadvantage in free-throw attempts or a 58-40 deficit in paint points for Saturday’s loss against the Rockets, but the bottom line for the New Orleans Pelicans was that a quality road win was within reach, if not for their late-game execution.
After seizing the lead in the fourth quarter against one of the Western Conference’s top teams, New Orleans (13-15) faltered down the stretch, unable to finish off what would have been a memorable road victory. The Pelicans were within 101-98 of the Rockets with less than two minutes to play, but Houston (21-11) scored the game’s final six points to make the final margin deceptively decisive. With few exceptions, Saturday’s game was a hard-fought battle for all 48 minutes, as neither Southwest Division club was able to take control until the Rockets delivered several clutch plays. The game was tied at 52 at halftime; Houston took a slim 74-73 lead into the final quarter.
Houston struggled to locate its perimeter shooting touch on its home floor for three-plus quarters, but after starting 3-for-22 from three-point range, the Rockets connected on three of their last four attempts. Meanwhile, the Pelicans came up empty on their final four possessions, including a costly turnover and three missed shots. New Orleans led 92-88 with 4:54 remaining, but was outscored 19-6 from there.
“Control of the game was in our direction,” said Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson (team-leading 22 points, 12 rebounds). “Down the stretch there were tough plays that didn’t go our way. We’ve just got to continue to get better down the stretch of games. We’ve had some games where we’ve played great down the stretch, and others where we haven’t. We just need to have some consistency.”
“We didn’t execute the way we should’ve down the stretch,” said Tyreke Evans (16 points, 9 assists). “But that happens in games. It was a tough loss. I thought we played hard and fought for all four quarters, but our execution wasn’t where it needed to be.”
Houston forward Chandler Parsons converted what may have been the biggest hoop of the night, a putback layup to make it 103-98 with 1:01 remaining. After Anderson missed a three-point attempt, All-Star guard James Harden sank a stepback jumper with 22 seconds left, giving the Rockets a three-possession edge at 105-98. Harden tacked on free throws at 0:12 to wrap up the scoring.
“They hit some big shots,” Evans said.
The nip-and-tuck nature of Saturday’s game, coupled with the narrow loss, was reminiscent of last Saturday’s 110-107 New Orleans defeat at Portland, a team off to an even better start in the West than the Rockets. New Orleans has been much more competitive on the road in recent weeks, compared to early in the season when the Pelicans were on the wrong end of a few one-sided losses, but they’re still just 1-5 away from New Orleans in their last six contests.
“We don’t want to be close,” Evans said of several near-misses on the road. “We want to get there. The guys we have, we have the talent to get there, so it’s tough taking these losses.”