Devonte' Graham is greeted by Jose Alvarado and teammates after his big basket

Panzura postgame wrap: Pelicans 98, Jazz 97

Pelicans (5-16), Jazz (12-7)
by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

After a forgettable first month of the 2021-22 regular season, maybe things are finally beginning to turn in New Orleans’ favor. On Friday, a few hours after announcing positive news about Zion Williamson’s progress, the Pelicans pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the NBA campaign, outlasting Utah in the fourth quarter on the Jazz’s home floor.

Devonte’ Graham provided the late-game heroics, draining a deep three-pointer from the right wing with 1.3 seconds left, turning a two-point deficit into a one-point victory. The thrilling win came two nights after New Orleans pounded Washington – another opponent off to an excellent start – by 25 points in the Smoothie King Center. Graham returned to the lineup Wednesday after being sidelined by foot soreness.

“Beating a team like Utah, obviously a playoff team, one of the top teams in the Western Conference,” Graham said, “for a team like us that had been struggling, with a lot of young guys trying to figure things out, you’ve got to take things and learn from it. We know that energy we have to play with, a full game. We’ve got to sustain it and have a strong mental.”

IT WAS OVER WHEN…

Utah’s Rudy Gobert was whistled for an offensive foul on an inbound pass, giving the ball back to New Orleans. The Pelicans couldn’t cleanly get the ball into Jonas Valanciunas after a timeout, but after it bounced around a bit, the Jazz were stuck with Bojan Bogdanovic launching from about 50 feet to try to win the game. His shot bounded off the backboard, sealing the outcome.

PELICANS PLAYER OF THE GAME

Willy Hernangomez has been a revelation since being inserted into the rotation Monday vs. Minnesota, piling up big numbers and consistently making winning plays for New Orleans at backup center. In just 19 minutes of action Friday, the native of Spain produced 13 points, eight rebounds and five assists, including putting the Pelicans in front by a point at halftime, when he nailed a highly unlikely, contested buzzer-beating three-pointer. Hernangomez is now 2/2 on the season from beyond the arc, to the delight of his teammates.

BY THE NUMBERS

41: New Orleans bench points. The rotation changes of adding Hernangomez and moving Nickeil Alexander-Walker to a reserve role have paid off quickly. Hernangomez has been an upgrade at backup center, while Alexander-Walker has been more efficient offensively overall and from three-point range.

11/27: New Orleans three-point shooting. The bench shot 7/13 from the arc.

6/21: Shooting from the field by Utah All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell. The Pelicans credited rookie forward Herbert Jones with sticky defense, forcing Mitchell into some tough shots and a long night.

REVISITING FANDUEL KEYS TO THE GAME

GO-TO GUYS

It wasn’t a particularly efficient night for Graham, Brandon Ingram or Valanciunas – the team’s top three scorers combined to shoot 16/42 – but Graham’s 3/10 shooting line didn’t matter much after he sank his third bucket.

PERIMETER DEFENSE

Jones now has seven steals over the past two games, spearheading a more aggressive ‘D’ by the Pelicans. New Orleans totaled eight steals at Utah, after 13 thefts Wednesday vs. Washington. Utah shot 13/34 on threes, a roughly average night for the Jazz in that category.

MATCHUP TO WATCH

New Orleans’ No. 26 defense vs. Utah’s No. 1 offense was an unexpected landslide victory for the Pelicans, who limited the Jazz to 45 first-half points and 44 percent shooting overall.

#FANFRIDAY

New Orleans is in Salt Lake City this weekend for consecutive games, making it an ideal time to ask fans this question on Twitter: Do you like the “series” aspect of the schedule that the NBA introduced last season? Opinion was split very evenly between positive and negative, with 55 percent of fans voting that they like series (or at least like it most of the time) and 45 percent on the other side of that ledger. There are certainly drawbacks to the concept; for example, Utah fans will not get to see Zion Williamson this season at Vivint Arena as a result, while Williamson also missed both games of an October series at Minnesota. Twitter user @xk_tweets noted that, “(the poll vote was) closer than I expected. I enjoy (series), but as others have mentioned, it definitely penalized injuries more when you have multiple games (as series always are) against your conference competition during that time.”

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