NBA Summer League: Timberwolves 97, Pelicans 78

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

LAS VEGAS – The offensive game plan that had worked so well – resulting in point guard Russ Smith leading NBA Summer League in assists – didn’t materialize for the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday in their Las Vegas finale. Smith, who was averaging a league-best 7.3 assists through four contests, finished with just three in Friday’s consolation-game defeat to the Minnesota Timberwolves, partly because the Pelicans simply did not shoot well.

New Orleans (2-3) entered Friday at a red-hot 40.7 percent from three-point range as a team, but went just 7-for-21 vs. Minnesota. After the Pelicans racked up 30 first-quarter points to seize a quick lead over the Timberwolves, they sputtered, scoring 16, 17 and 15 points in the final three periods, respectively. Minnesota (2-4) took advantage of a cold New Orleans second half and turned a 46-45 intermission deficit into a lead that expanded to as many as 22 points.

Instead of enjoying another big night distributing the ball, Smith topped the Pelicans with 21 points, his high scoring game in Las Vegas. He went 9-for-18 from the field, including 2-for-4 three-point shooting. However, as a team New Orleans shot only 43.8 percent from the field and made just 10 trips to the foul line.

“It’s tough, because we have a team of shooters, so you want to get them the ball,” Smith said. “I was trying my best. Sometimes the shots don’t go in, it’s kind of, not frustrating, but it was just different, because we were shooting the ball hot, (but) now we were cold. I was trying to look for my shot a little bit more.”

Minnesota’s 75-48 aggregate advantage during the final three quarters was spearheaded by first-round draft pick Zach LaVine, who totaled a game-best 22 points. A former Louisville teammate of Smith, towering second-year Wolves center Gorgui Dieng anchored the Minnesota defense by blocking three shots, including a dunk attempt by the 6-foot Smith. After the game, Dieng presumably good-naturedly tweeted “No, No, No… @Im_Russdiculous.”

Most of the Pelicans’ offensive struggles took place outside the paint, however. New Orleans shot 19-for-32 from within the lane, but was just 13-for-41 from everywhere else on the floor, uncharacteristic for a team that had been lethal from the perimeter during the bulk of its time in Nevada.

“We were shooting a ridiculous (percentage) from the three-point line, so I just really overemphasized getting the ball out to those guys,” noted Smith, who finished summer league averaging 6.4 assists, still No. 1 in the 24-team circuit. “But every game is different, and I try to take what the defense gives me… I wanted to win. I don’t really like losing. I wish I could’ve just done better, to win.”

Cameron Ayers (11 points, 4-for-6 shooting) joined Smith in double figures for the Pelicans. Patric Young continued a strong week near the rim, posting eight points and 12 rebounds, including five offensive boards.