The Pistons fell short to the visiting New Orleans Pelicans last night in Detroit, a 117-110 overtime crusher. Even with the Pelicans missing some of their key players, they still had a grip on the lead over the Pistons. Detroit was about to stage a comeback attempt and was able to send the game into overtime, but they were unfortunately thwarted by the Pelicans. So, as we do after every Pistons’ game, here are 3 observations from tonight’s loss to New Orleans.
Jahlil Okafor Shines Bright, Andre Drummond Dims
Tonight’s game felt like it was Freaky Friday (on a Monday) for the starting centers for both New Orleans and Detroit. Normally it’s Andre Drummond who has the monster, stat-stuffing nightly performances. Last night, that title belonged to New Orleans Pelicans center Jahlil Okafor.
Okafor, a player that only averages 15.9 minutes per contest, played a nice, well-rounded game. The former Duke Blue Devil scored 25 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and even threw out five assists. This performance coming from a player that has a season average of 7.8 points and 4.2 rebounds per game was certainly unexpected. Andre Drummond was not his usual dominant self—he struggled to score around the rim against the equally large and sturdy Okafor. Drummond connected on five of 14 field-goal attempts for 11 total points, and 10 rebounds. The Pistons most-discussed trade asset is having a career season, as he is currently averaging 17.6 points and 15.9 rebounds per game. Drummond is making a case for an All-Star nomination, while the only way Okafor will be headed to All-Star weekend is if he books a plane ticket to Chicago.
Drummond cannot afford to have bad nights like this. Detroit could have used more of his low-post dominance, but he struggled to make shots when the opportunity really presented itself. He struggled so much that he was not even in the game during the final minutes of the 4th quarter as the game headed into overtime. Drummond was replaced by Christian Wood, who was having a slightly better game. The Pelicans were without some of their best players in Jrue Holiday, J.J. Redick, Brandon Ingram and, most notably, their prized possession Zion Williamson. Drummond will have to come harder and be more equipped than he did last night if he wants to make an All-Star case for himself come February.
The Pelicans Supporting Cast Played a Huge Role Tonight
As mentioned in the previous section, the New Orleans Pelicans were without some of their best players. They were coming into last night’s game as expected underdogs just by being on the road. But they were able to squeeze the most juice out of their available roster tonight as several players stepped up and came through in the clutch.
Pelicans point guard Lonzo Ball helped carry the team with his solid play, almost recording a triple-double of 17 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. He helped established the tempo of the game by constantly pushing the ball up the court to catch a defender napping on defense in hopes of beating them to the cup or looking to set up his teammates in transition. Power forward Nicolo Melli was also spectacular. Melli is a player that does not play long in games, as he averages just 14.2 minutes per contest. He was lights out from the field, knocking down 7-11 field goals and nailing half of his three-pointers. Another player who played well was E’Twaun Moore, who did some of the little things by grabbing seven rebounds, even though he is listed at 6’3” and 191 pounds. He chipped in 16 points as well.
On nights when the Pistons get the opportunity to go against teams that are a bit depleted like the Pelicans were last night, they cannot afford to let that team come into their arena and outmuscle them on the glass (61 rebounds for New Orleans and 43 for Detroit). Detroit’s supporting cast didn’t come through as well as the supporting cast for New Orleans. Hopefully, in Detroit’s next game against the Celtics on Wednesday, they can get more from their role players while they wait for their own players to return from injury.
Even Though Detroit Loss, Last Night’s Game Was Winnable
Tonight, was not Detroit’s best game.
The team came out of the gate slow and trailed by 16 points at one point in the game. Even though New Orleans led the game at halftime and won it late in overtime, the opportunities were clearly there for Detroit to win.
The Pistons and Pelicans finished with similar stats, although New Orleans committed more turnovers than Detroit, turning the ball over 19 times to Detroit’s nine turnovers. The Pistons led the game in both blocks (eight) and steals (11). Both teams shot the ball almost identically.
New Orleans shot 41.7% from the field, 34.6% from three and 81.5% from the free-throw line.
Detroit shot 40.4% from the field, 34.4% from three and 79.2% from the free-throw line.
But what I believe truly cost the Pistons was their inability to compete on the glass with the Pelicans. By having New Orleans gain extra opportunities by rebounding the ball, they were able to score off second-chance points, which just crippled the Pistons. Had the Pelicans played a cleaner game and not committed so many turnovers this game would have been over with no need for overtime. The Pistons showcased a valiant effort in charging a comeback and, even when the game was sent into overtime, this game was still winnable. The Pistons just need to compete harder at certain moments and take advantage of the opportunities they are given when they present themselves.
Featured Image: Carlos Osorio/Associated Press