The New Orleans Pelicans were 10.5 point underdogs on the road vs. the Suns last night, and Phoenix showed why with a 110-99 win.
The Pels couldn’t figure out the Suns’ defense early or how to stop Chris Paul late, and Phoenix was able to hold off the New Orleans’ comeback.
I thought there were three keys to the Pelicans pulling off the upset against the Suns, and last night New Orleans failed at two of them.
The Pelicans were able to pull one of them off but will have to get all three to have a chance against the Suns.
Ingram and McCollum have to be consistently dominant
Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum combined for 60 points in the lone win against the Suns this season, and I thought they’d have to average 50+ in this series for the Pelicans to have a chance at the upset.
They combined for just 43 points last night, and more importantly, shot just 15-of-42 for 34 percent and turned the ball over eight times.
The Pels can’t afford an off night from either of these two, but especially not both of them. The Suns’ defense was smothering in the first half, as they allowed the Pels just 34 points with very few clean looks.
It didn’t help that Jonas Valanciunas went just 7-of-21, adding to the scoring woes. If JV can hit more shots in game two, it should get Ingram and McCollum some better looks but the Pels were having problems getting anything on the Suns’ defense.
The Pelicans have to slow down Chris Paul
We saw vintage Chris Paul last night, as he controlled the offense, took over the game at just the right time and torched the Pelicans for 30 points and 10 assists.
New Orleans had no answer for him in the 4th quarter, where he went on an 11-point run by himself to hold off the Pelicans, who heated up in the 2nd half.
Paul is one of the league’s great closers and he’s going to be a matchup problem for New Orleans all series. Herb Jones started the game on Paul and the Pels tried to throw a few different looks at him, but they might have to sell out even more to try and slow CP3 down. He scored 30 points on just 16 shots, so the Pels at least have to make him work harder for it.
The problem with constantly doubling Paul is that he’s so good at passing out of it, he’ll just set up his teammates for open shots. I don’t envy coach Willie Green in trying to figure out how to slow Chris Paul, but if he keeps having games like that, New Orleans doesn’t stand much of a chance.
Jonas Valanciunas and Jaxson Hayes have to dominate the boards
One advantage the Pelicans appeared to have coming into this series was on the boards, as they are the bigger team with the Suns going small with Crowder in the starting lineup.
Valanciunas came through on his end, grabbing 25 rebounds, 13 of them offensive. The problem was that he wasn’t able to convert many of them into points, as the Suns had nine blocks and outscored the Pelicans 50-38 on points in the paint.
Deandre Ayton was more efficient and protected the rim better, so even though Valanciunas put up the big rebound numbers, it didn’t translate into an advantage for the Pelicans. Offensive rebounds are great when they lead to points, but chasing them can also lead to fast breaks, and the Suns had a 15-2 advantage in fast break points.
The Pelicans won the rebounding battle decisively (55-35), but most of them came from Valanciunas, as Hayes played just 11 minutes and was a non-factor.
This is an area the Pelicans can dominate but they have to turn some of those offensive rebounds into put backs to gain an advantage.
New Orleans put together a good second half and got it close, so let’s hope next game they can shake off those early jitters (and the Suns’ defenders) and put together a complete game.