Prior to Sunday afternoon’s game, before the New Orleans Pelicans were eliminated from playoff contention, coach Alvin Gentry said his team needed to play like it was Game 7, with the season on the line.
But when the Pelicans took the court against the San Antonio Spurs, their lackluster effort in the opening minutes set the tone for the 122-113 loss that was ahead of them. San Antonio jumped to a 14-3 lead, and though the Pelicans briefly tied the game in the first, they played from behind most of the night.
Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson said the way the team came out of the gate was “not acceptable.”
“That lack of spirit in the first half really dictates the second half,” Williamson said. “If we came out better, maybe we would’ve had a different outcome. You just have to learn from that experience and be better.”
New Orleans was officially eliminated from playoff contention when Portland beat Philadelphia 124-121 later Sunday. The Kings were also eliminated.
Gentry said he had “no explanation” for why his team didn’t come out with the intensity he wanted from the beginning.
“We talked about it, and it is a Game 7. We did need to approach it like it was a Game 7,” Gentry said. “Obviously, we fell behind early. Defensively, we weren’t into the ball early on. I don’t have an explanation for that. I wish I did. But that’s the only way you’re going to beat a team like that. You have to be willing to play, you have to execute, and you have to protect the basketball, and those things we struggled with today.”
The Pelicans fell behind by as much as 20 points but were able to get the lead to one possession with three minutes to play. Then a quick 8-0 run by the Spurs sealed the game.
Redick, who tied a season high with 31 points and set a new season high with eight 3-pointers, said New Orleans lacked a “competitive spirit” to start. The Pelicans also fell behind early in losses in the bubble to the LA Clippers and Sacramento.
“We’ve had a couple games like that down here for whatever reason,” Redick said. “Our group eventually picked it back up and whittled that lead back down to a one-possession game. We just didn’t start the game right. For the whole first, to be honest — not just starters, whole first half.”
Williamson had 25 points on 10-of-20 shooting to go with seven rebounds. He said the team needed to be ready to come out and play, and he said it showed in games when they weren’t ready.
“Every team has some kind of adversity they have to work through,” Williamson said. “Ours, we have good communication. Just at times, we don’t use it, and it shows. … We just have to put ourselves in a better position to win. We can’t come out like we did in the first half. Simple as that.”
Gentry pointed to the Pelicans’ 20 turnovers that led to 30 points for San Antonio as a reason New Orleans had such a hard time coming back. The Spurs had 22 points off Pelicans miscues in the first half.
“The one thing that I emphasized right from the start is, I said, ‘Let’s make sure that we have them beat us and not beat ourselves,'” Gentry said. “At the end of the day, you turn it over 20 times for 30 points, you had [as] big of [a] hand in that loss as they had playing, and that’s not taking one thing away from San Antonio because they are a good basketball team. Obviously, they are a team that doesn’t beat themselves.”
New Orleans will finish the bubble with games against Sacramento and Orlando. The Kings defeated the Pelicans 140-125 on Aug. 7.