WASHINGTON – Since serving as the host team for the NBA All-Star Game last weekend, the New Orleans Pelicans have played three consecutive nail-biters against Eastern Conference opponents. All of them have been losses. Without question, Saturday’s defeat was the most difficult to stomach.
Leading by a point on the final possession, the Pelicans couldn’t stop Wizards point guard John Wall from penetrating into the lane and passing to Nene, whose dunk with three-tenths of a second remaining capped a dramatic win for the home team. New Orleans quickly inbounded from the baseline to Brian Roberts, but Roberts’ 60-foot desperation heave at the buzzer was wide left and a bit short.
“That one hurt,” Pelicans Coach Monty Williams said. “Like I told our guys, there is no other way to put it. It just hurt. To do all that we did in that game, all the lead changes and to have it right there, it just hurts. Our guys are stinging over that one because we felt like we did enough to win.”
Nene’s game-winning slam capped an eventful final minute-plus in which the lead kept changing hands. Eric Gordon sank two free throws to put New Orleans (23-32) in front 91-89 with 1:08 left, before Washington (27-28) sliced the margin to 91-90 on a Nene foul shot at 0:55. After a Wizards defensive stop, Wall gave the hosts a 92-91 edge with an off-balance layup on the right side of the basket with 26 ticks to go.
Anthony Davis (26 points, 11 rebounds) gave the Pelicans their final lead by drawing a defensive foul on a mid-range shot, then stepping to the foul line and drilling both tosses, for a 93-92 edge with only seven seconds left.
The Wizards answered with a play in which Wall dribbled right to left, his off hand, but was able to draw help from interior defender Jeff Withey, who had to leave his man Nene open in order to stop Wall from getting to the rim. Withey's decision nearly worked; the Wizards barely were able to finish the play, doing so with only 0.3 showing on the clock.
“(Wall) broke us down and your natural reaction is to go help,” Williams said of Withey making the correct basketball play in that situation. “We could make up all kinds of reasons why that happened. If anyone, it was on me not our guys. They were trying to do their best.”
“It was tough,” said Pelicans reserve guard Anthony Morrow, who nearly spearheaded a road victory with a stellar 18-point performance on 7-for-8 shooting. “Obviously, on the last play of the game, Wall made a great pass.”
“We gave ourselves a chance to win,” Davis said. “Up one on the road, with a chance to win, that’s all you can ask for. We were down, we were up, we were down and we were up. To lose, especially on a play like that, is tough.”
The entire 48 minutes Saturday were played without either team able to take command at any stage. The Wizards’ biggest lead in the Verizon Center was eight points, while the Pelicans never were up by more than seven. Washington led 24-21 through the first quarter, but New Orleans pulled into a halftime deadlock at 43 apiece. The score will still all even through three periods at 66.
The Pelicans, who will host the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday before embarking on a five-game road trip, lost on Wednesday to New York by seven, followed by Friday’s three-point defeat to Charlotte.