Despite win, Pelicans' fatal flaw continues to emerge

Houston Rockets v New Orleans Pelicans
Houston Rockets v New Orleans Pelicans / Jonathan Bachman/GettyImages

Before a 13-7 run to close the game, the Pelicans found themselves stuck in the mud for most of the fourth quarter. 

The free-flowing, Zion-centric offense that eviscerated Houston for three quarters was nowhere to be found. Instead of drawing double teams and finding open cutters and shooters, Zion Williamson forced shots early in the shot clock. Instead of creating for himself and his teammates like he had all night, CJ McCollum was firing off contested long twos and circus shots at the rim. The transition buckets were limited, and a suddenly stingy Rockets’ defense shut the overflowing valve of open threes. 

Everything that worked so well for 75% of the game was gone instantly, and Houston crawled back into the game. The Rockets never threatened to make a run, and the Pelicans closed out a lesser team as they should, but watching New Orleans’ fourth-quarter performance felt like deja vu. 

For a team with a 34-22 record with everything to play for (home-court advantage in the first round, mainly), the Pelicans have a fatal flaw that needs to be addressed. 

For three quarters, the Pels consistently look like a team ready to make a deep run in the west. In the fourth quarter, they look like a team praying to the lottery gods. New Orleans sports a -3.4 net rating in the fourth quarter of games, meaning they’re 3.4 points worse than their opponents per 100 possessions. That number is ranked 25th in the league. 

Even worse, in clutch scenarios (defined as the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime when the score is within five points), the Pelicans' net rating sits at -13.3, also 25th in the league. The team has had 19 games end in clutch scenarios, and their record in those games sits at 9-10. 

Willie Green has a ton of talent at his disposal, but he desperately needs to figure out how to get that talent to perform when the lights shine the brightest. Come playoff time, the Pelicans aren’t going to tote the same talent advantage they do over the Rockets and the Wizards of the world. This team should have high aspirations, but those dreams will stay dreams and never become reality if they can’t fix their fourth-quarter woes.