NEW ORLEANS – For three quarters of the night, from Friday to Friday, the New Orleans Pelicans fought like hell against the Phoenix Suns.
The Pelicans entered the fourth quarter with an 11-point lead and their offense scored 102 points in the first 36 minutes. But games lasted 48 minutes. And the final 12 was certainly one the Pelicans would like to forget soon.
The lead evaporated in four minutes. The Suns were not even in the double digits after four minutes. When the final siren sounded, the Suns left the court with a 132-114 victory, while the Pelicans went into their locker room dazed trying to figure out what had just happened.
According to research by the Elias Sports Bureau, the 18-point loss was the largest shootout loss in the NBA (since 1954-55) for a team that entered the fourth quarter with a lead of more than 10 points.
So, what happened?
“I saw Chris Paul take control of the basketball,” Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram said.
Paul finished with 15 points, 19 assists and a record plus-28 in the fourth quarter – he played less than 10 minutes. The experienced point guard helped the Suns take control and never looked back.
“The guy is orchestrated there. He knows what’s going to happen on the field before it even happens,” said Sun goalie Devin Booker. “With him, the game is never out of hand. The game is not over until the horn is blown”. He did a great job of coaching us and keeping us calm during the game.
“In the fourth quarter, it’s a work of art. The way he dismantled their defense and made the play for others, while scoring when he had to.”
Paul seemed to be three steps ahead of everything the Pelicans were going to do in the fourth quarter. His three-pointer against the Pelicans kept Lonzo Ball at 4:41 from the end, which seemed to be a dagger that put New Orleans out of the game. He returned to the court with his teammates while Pelican coach Stan Van Gundy called a timeout to try to salvage something in the final minutes.
However, contrary to what social media is currently suggesting, Paul did not shout, “This place is mine.”
“I said I know the place, I know the place,” said Paul, who played the first six seasons of his career in New Orleans. “I know it. I know it. I spent some of the best years of my life here in New Orleans.
While the Suns were looking for the win, the Pelicans had to figure out how to put the game aside.
“I think we’re just in the game, we’re not stopping and we’re a little demoralized offensively,” Ball said. “We saw them fire with three seconds left at the end, we had no ball movement or good shots in the fourth quarter. It got worse and worse.
In addition to the three-pointer that sent Phoenix to New Orleans, the Pelicans also played basketball. The Pelicans, who made only seven rotations in the first three quarterfinals, committed six errors in the first six minutes, allowing Phoenix to score 12 points.
It’s a problem that has affected New Orleans this season. With Friday’s loss, New Orleans drops to 12-9 this season in games where they hold a double-digit lead. That’s the most losses since a double-digit lead in the NBA this season, according to an ESPN Stats & Information study.
“The problem is that we have to find a way to calm down when chaos ensues,” Ingram said. “We have to be able to adapt during the game.
“Whatever we plan to do defensively, whatever we plan to do offensively to make our team a better team, that’s what we have to do. After these losses, it’s frustrating. We have nothing to say. The coach has nothing to say. Just watch the film and try to be better tomorrow.
Van Gundy said he didn’t think the age of his team was the problem.
“A lot of teams in this league have these kinds of neighborhoods,” Van Gundy said. “I would never throw in a young card. We’re a basketball team with some very talented people, and we didn’t play well in the fourth quarter.”
Although he called it a “bad neighborhood.” And it was. The minus 29 was the largest minus 29 for the Pelicans in franchise history.
“They crushed us at the end and kept going,” Van Gundy added.
Pelican forward Zion Williamson said there was only one way to deal with such a loss.
“Really, the most important thing for us is to learn from it,” the 20-year-old said. “Honestly, I think it’s the best thing we can do. Learn from it.