After clinching their first playoff bid in three seasons a few days ago, the New Orleans Pelicans closed out the regular season in the same manner as their last postseason run: a victory at home over the San Antonio Spurs.
The Pelicans cruised to a 122-98 win over the big brother Spurs thanks in large part to some good old-fashioned ball movement and bully-ball. The Pelicans handed out 30 assists — 14 coming from Rajon Rondo, and mauled the Spurs for 78 points in the paint.
“I thought we started the game the right way,” said Head Coach Alvin Gentry. “I thought we started with a lot of energy. We want to play fast. They want to play slow. We wanted to try to dictate the tempo of game and I thought we did that, especially in the second quarter. I thought [in the second quarter] we got out and ran and had good ball movement and they were running off misses and that’s really important also, because I think when we run off misses, the ball is moving better and we seem to be able to spread the floor a little bit better.”
The starting unit for New Orleans saved arguably their best performance as a group for last in the Smoothie King Center. In addition to those aforementioned 14 assists, Rondo scored 19 points thanks to a flurry of runners and floaters off the glass; Jrue Holiday and Nikola Mirotic were hot early, combining to make six of their first nine (nice.) attempts and the duo finished with 23 and 22 points, respectively; E’Twaun Moore was steady with 13 points; and Anthony Davis, despite dare I say looking a tad bit “off,” still managed 22 points, 15 rebounds, four blocks and three steals.
Though the Pelicans had safely secured a spot at the dinner table — known as the playoffs, New Orleans came into tonight’s game at risk of facing either the Houston Rockets or Golden State Warriors in the first round, a rather unenviable task. Couple that with the Spurs down a mere point after the first quarter and the game got off to a slightly more tense start than desired.
But the Pelicans did what good teams do, and they put their foot on the Spurs neck in the second quarter, doubling them up 34-17 in the frame. New Orleans shot 70 percent for the quarter while stealing a page from San Antonio’s — the stingiest team in points allowed — book and held the Spurs to a porous 30 percent from the floor. It was Holiday and Mirotic again leading the way offensively as the duo combined for 15 points and hit seven of 10 shots.
New Orleans went into halftime up 18 thanks to a 23-6 run to close out the second quarter and never looked back. The teams played to a 29-29 draw in the third quarter, and the Pelicans were +6 in the fourth en route to their 48th win of the 2017-18 regular season.
Coupled with a Thunder win over Memphis, tonight’s win assures the Pelicans of either a fifth or sixth seed in the Western Conference playoff bracket and a date with the Portland Trail Blazers. The exact seeding will be decided upon the conclusion of the currently on-going Utah-Portland game, but the mission has already been accomplished according to Anthony Davis in postgame media.
“It was very important for us in terms of the seeding, but we wanted to come out and finish the season strong knowing that it was our last home game of the regular season and we wanted to do it for the fans and they came out and supported us, been here all season through the ups and downs and we just wanted to come out and make sure we finished the season strong for them.”
Interestingly, New Orleans season-ending victory extends the current winning streak to five games, which is the hottest they’ve been heading into the postseason since the 2008-09 season.
The regular season was hardly the smoothest of rides — it still pains me to think about the loss of DeMarcus Cousins, but it was undeniably a successful one. There is still work to be done, of course, but tonight enjoy this simple fact: The New Orleans Pelicans are playoff bound and they have a legitimate chance of making some noise once the games start on Saturday!
Check back with us soon as we’ll get you ready for the upcoming Portland series with a slew of content in coming days.