In a match that was dubbed the 'Disappointment Bowl', the struggling New Orleans Pelicans shook off their malaise to beat the equally beleaguered Boston Celtics. But what does that victory for the Pelicans mean?
Does it mean that the bad
times are firmly behind this squad and that they could go on to realize offseason ambitions of pushing for the playoffs? Or is it merely what it seems?
One struggling side proving to be slightly less bad than another?
The Pelicans Season So Far
There was no one in New Orleans tipping the Pelicans to win the playoffs in the offseason, but there was plenty of hope in the city that the team could push on and be involved in the playoffs at least.
That was something that was reflected in the betting odds too, with the Pelicans raising interest amongst a lot of betting circles. However, the harsh reality so far has been that the Pelicans have come up way short of those offseason ambitions.
If you check the current NBA lines, you will see that the Pelicans are way down the list when it comes to end game betting. That is because, by and large, the Pelicans have been atrocious this season, finding themselves below the Mavericks, Grizzlies, and Warriors in the Western Conference.
But February 21's historic comeback victory over the Celtics has sparked hopes of a revival in New Orleans. A team that was lambasted for its lack of mental strength just a week earlier in the collapse to the Phoenix Suns displayed supreme mental fortitude to come back against the Celtics. Could it be a harbinger of better things to come?
(Highlights from the Pelicans amazing comeback win against the Celtics.)
The Celtics Win Analyzed
All season, the Pelicans have struggled to hold on to leads, holding the unenviable record of going 12-9 in games in which they have had a double digit lead this season.
There are two reasons that this team have been unable to convert positions of dominance into victories. The first has been sloppiness on the ball. A seeming inability to hold on to the ball when under pressure has been a thorn in the team's side. When playing the Suns, the Pelicans gave up six turnovers in six minutes.
The second reason for their misfortune has been the underwhelming performance of the defence, which has looked porous and fragile at every turn.
Against the Celtics, these two issues looked to haunt the Pelicans as they slipped to a 24-point deficit midway through the third quarter. But after that, something clicked in the Pelicans ranks as though they had reached a Rubicon of disappointment.
The defence went from zeroes to heroes, providing the building blocks for a superb comeback victory, which highlighted the potential of this Pelicans team. Instead of being sloppy and not eager to dominate the ball, players were looking for it at every opportunity and made the most of possession.
In short, the fourth quarter of this game was everything that the Pelicans season so far has been not. That said, the Western Conference table still looks less than appealing to Pelicans, so what do the team need to do now to ensure that victory against the Celtics wasn't a one-off?
Lean on Lonzo Ball & Josh Hart
All season these two have floundered, but, against the Celtics, they showed that, with the right attitude and mindset, they can shut out any team in the NBA. Throughout the fourth quarter, Ball and Hart not only guarded the ball, but they hustled with high amounts of energy to set the defensive tone.
This performance from the two-point guards showed that, if the rest of the team trust them to set the tone and lead from the front, then the team can certainly rally around them.
Instead of being seen as a weakness in the coming games, these two should be given the responsibility to galvanise the team. The Pelicans have the opportunity to capitalize on their victory, but they need to keep the quality of play up.
(Tim Legler praises the Pelicans de-fence in the wake of the comeback against the Celtics.)
Come up with Creative Plays
With the Celtics 106-105 up with little over 10 seconds to play in the game, Coach Stan Van Gundy looked to Zion Williamson to take the final play. Whereas one week earlier from that game, Van Gundy had looked to Brandon Ingram for the points.
Van Gundy's trust in Williamson came as a shock to many viewers, but it paid off big-time and highlighted Williamson's prowess on the ball.
At times this season, Williamson has been written off by many as a big guy who is limited to playing as a 4 or a 5. Against the Celtics, he showed that he is so much more than that, and Van Gundy should be looking to unlock more of his potential in the coming weeks.
He can not only play a key role in creative plays for the Pelicans in the remainder of the season, but his ball handling skills can also be put to good use in ensuring the team do not gift possession to the opposition on as many occasions as they have thus far.
Only time will tell if the Pelicans victory over the Celtics is an anomaly or an example of improvement in a wider pattern of progress for Stan Van Gundy's side.
Rather than worrying about that though, Pelicans fans should savour the comeback against the Celtics and take the signals of hope with them into the next couple of games. After all, it's been pretty tough for Pelicans fans so far this season, so they deserve to enjoy this historic win.