NBA Summer League: Spurs 88, Pelicans 86

by Jim Eichenhofer

LAS VEGAS – It’s a testament to how well the New Orleans Pelicans’ summer league offense has clicked that despite missing 15 free throws Monday, as well as 20 shots in the paint, they again generated gaudy numbers. In a league that plays 40-minute games instead of 48, final scores don’t often approach the century mark, but the Pelicans (2-1) registered 83, 90 and 86 points in their three pool play contests.

Monday’s narrow defeat to San Antonio was partly caused by New Orleans’ subpar 15-for-30 performance at the foul line. The Pelicans misfired from the charity stripe at several critical junctures, including missing 10 times in the second half. Despite the inaccuracy, New Orleans came back to take an 86-85 lead on a DeQuan Jones three-pointer with 37 seconds left. San Antonio then took advantage of a pair of Pelicans misses at the line, after Spurs veteran Jeff Ayres converted a three-point play with 6.3 seconds left. New Orleans point guard Russ Smith had a chance to tie on the final possession, but he was forced to float up a low-percentage shot at the buzzer while being harassed by two Spurs.

“The Spurs obviously played great and executed, but I think we kind of let up a bit from the free throw line, including myself,” said Smith, who went 1-for-4. “We missed a lot of free throws and missed a lot in the paint. Those are the kind of things that we can correct. Obviously the Spurs outplayed us and won the game by two, but there were some things we can control.”

“You never like losing, regardless. It’s a competition,” Pelicans summer head coach Bryan Gates said. “But I liked our effort. We were 15 of 30 from the foul line and 15 of 35 on shots in the paint. We still scored 86 points. With our defense, that should be enough.”

Smith spearheaded another aggressive New Orleans offensive attack, handing out 10 assists to go with 14 points and five rebounds. The second-round draft pick from Louisville has consistently spotted open perimeter shooters, as well as cutters to the rim. He’s averaging 7.7 assists, threatening the league lead.

On Monday, Pelicans teammates Jones (game-high 20 points, including 9-for-13 at the foul line), Courtney Fells (19 points, 4-for-8 three-point shooting) and Josh Carter (15 points, 5-for-11 three-point shooting) benefited from Smith’s court vision. Jones frequently got to the rim and bulldozed past San Antonio defenders, while Fells and Carter fired away from long distance, often set up by a timely Smith pass.

“We just go out and have fun,” said Jones, who only practiced with NOLA once before suiting up Sunday and Monday. “Playing with a point guard like Russ, he’s going to find you. He pretty much has a ball on a string and can go wherever he wants.”

“We’re getting great shots,” Smith said. “No one’s taking contested ones. We’re getting stuff within the offense and the element of creation. When teams do that, you always get great shots.”

The loss prevented New Orleans from clinching a first-round bye in the upcoming NBA Summer League tournament, but the Pelicans can still do so, depending on the results of other games late Monday and Tuesday. If they do not secure a top-eight seed (among the league's 24 teams), they’ll play in Wednesday’s opening round (time, opponent TBD).