After 24 minutes of basketball, it looked like the New Orleans Pelicans were going to give the defending champions a serious challenge, as they went into the locker room with a lead of 49-43. In the second half, however, the Miami Heat were completely dominant, outscoring the Pelicans 64-39 en route to an easy 107-88 victory.
The key to the Pelicans strong first half was Anthony Davis, who finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds, one assist, three steals, two blocks and five turnovers. Davis was deadly in the first, dominating around the rim for multiple easy dunks and put-backs. In the second half, however, the Heat were able neutralize Davis by guarding him heavily in the paint. He rarely touched the ball and when he did, he faced far more opposition than he did in the first half. When Davis was no longer able to routinely put in easy buckets, the Heat began controlling the tempo of the game and they never let up.
In the second half, the absence of Ryan Anderson from the Pelicans lineup became all too noticeable. Anderson is one of the best shooters in the league and does wonders in allowing the Pelicans to space the floor. Without Anderson to scare Miami’s defenders away from Davis, they surrounded him. Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon were frequently left wide open from 3 and failed to make the Heat pay. If any of the Pelicans’ outside shooters had been able to drain a few extra shots, Davis likely would have been more effective in the second half, and this game probably would have finished a lot closer than it did.
Predictably, the star of the second half was LeBron James, who was absolutely unstoppable in the third quarter, putting up 16 points, and completely flummoxing any defender the Pelicans tried to put on him. LeBron wound up with 32 points on only 22 shots despite only attempting three free throws. It wasn’t that LeBron could draw contact, but more that Pelicans defenders were content just get out of his way. Like so many other teams, the Pelicans had no way of keeping LeBron in check when he drove to the basket.
Dwyane Wade also had a fantastic night for the Heat, finishing with 22 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists. Anyone hung up on the notion that Wade is passed his prime did not watch him play tonight. He was getting any shot he wanted, and like James, was difficult to contain when driving to the hoop. Really, once the third quarter began, the two superstars of the Heat (sorry Chris Bosh) just took over, and the Pelicans were completely clueless as to how to even contain them, much less stop them. For fans of a talented young team looking to build confidence with a win against an established juggernaut, it was not a pretty sight.
Ordinarily, there’d be no shame in losing a game on the road to one of the best teams in the league, but what hurts for the Pelicans is how they lost. In the first half, they were faster, and more efficient than the Heat, and while a comeback may have been inevitable, it was shocking how little the Pelicans were able to accomplish in slowing down the Miami onslaught. The one positive was Davis, who was brilliant, particular in the first quarter. Pelicans fans should be thrilled to have a young player of his caliber, who could one day evolve into a force on the level of LeBron James. For the most part, though, this is a terribly disappointing game. The Pelicans looked like they might hold their own against the mighty Heat, but when LeBron and Wade began lighting it up, they folded faster than Superman on laundry day. Clearly, this Pelicans group, while quite talented, is a long way from being a serious contender.