The New Orleans Pelicans are a team running out of time and chances. They sit in 11th in the Western Conference with a 25-32 record, and they let a big opportunity get away against the New York Knicks on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
In spite of the fact that the Pelicans trailed by 15 points earlier in the game, they took the lead in the fourth quarter and had a three-point lead with 7.8 seconds left in the game. The Knicks inbounded the ball and the plan for the Pelicans was to foul immediately and send them to the free throw line for two shots.
Attention to detail is the fatal flaw for the New Orleans Pelicans
Pelicans guard Eric Bledsoe’s job on the inbound was simple: Just foul quick.
Knicks guard Derrick Rose inbounded to Kevin Knox, who handed off to Rose as he dribbled to the rim and kicked out to Reggie Bullock for a game-tying 3-pointer.
As we can see above, Bledsoe blew his only responsibility, allowing Rose to drive to the basket basically unabated. Inexplicably, Pelican guard Lonzo Ball could have salvaged the situation and at least allowed Rose to go to the basket. After all, the Knicks needed three points, not two.
Instead, he offered some half-hearted help, just enough to leave the sharpshooting Bullock open, and that’s not a mistake you can make when you’re trying to stay alive in a playoff chase.
It was a catastrophic failure, and comments after the game didn’t bring any level of comfort.
Bledsoe admitted he didn’t foul because he “wasn’t paying attention. Lack of focus.”
Pelicans head coach Stan Van Gundy expressed his utter dismay and disappointment after the game:
“Today, with 7.8 seconds left, high school guys would’ve done what they’re supposed to do.”
I’ve never played basketball at a high level, but it’s hard to fathom a lack of focus that could distract me from executing the simplest defensive tactic teams have at their disposal with a three-point lead. Fouling and sending your opponent to the line is nothing short of an easy math problem, and it’s not the first time the Pelicans have been in this situation.
Eric Bledsoe is not new to the NBA or scenarios like this, and this kind of failure is inexcusable. And Lonzo Ball doesn’t get a pass here for blowing his own assignment and sticking with Bullock. To be fair, it’s been a tough season for a lot of reasons. If ever there was a season to have wavering focus or concentration, maybe this is the one.
However, in this particular situation, Bledsoe had one job to do, and it was to focus and execute for up to 7.8 seconds. He failed, the New Orleans Pelicans lost in overtime, and this team is now 3.0 games behind the 10th-place San Antonio Spurs for the final play-in spot.
With just 15 games left, this is likely a death blow to their postseason hopes. If they do end up falling short, we’ll have to point back to moments like this where their own failure to maintain attention to detail and execution was their fatal flaw.