The Second Line nearly powers Pelicans to improbable victory over Nuggets

Jan 25, 2023 - 6:21 AM
NBA: Denver Nuggets at <a href=New Orleans Pelicans" src="" />
Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports

They lost another game — and another player to injury, but The Second Line nearly propelled the team to the best comeback victory of the season against Nikola Jokic.

The New Orleans Pelicans, who trailed by as many as 19 points multiple times, fell 99-98 to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday evening, extending their losing streak to five games.

The writing of another loss seemed to be on the wall when Dyson Daniels collapsed to the floor early in the second quarter, writhing in serious pain.

Daniels severely twisted his right ankle after landing on Zeke Nnaji’s foot following a floater shot attempt. The rookie had to be helped off the floor and towards the locker room by several teammates.

One could almost feel all the air go out of the building. We learned the obvious moments later when the Pelicans announced Daniels’ night was over.

Willie Green labeled Daniels’ injury as a right ankle sprain in postgame. Dyson left the Smoothie King Center on crutches, with his right foot in a walking boot.

The Nuggets utilized an 18-6 run during the first six minutes of the second to push their lead to 46-30. For the longest, their advantage felt insurmountable.

Though the Pelicans continued to fight for the rest of the first half and much of the third quarter, they failed to make serious leeway into Denver’s lead until a Jose Alvarado lay-in cut the deficit to seven points with 55 seconds remaining in the frame.

The Pelicans proceeded to creep closer and closer throughout the fourth quarter.

Another Alavardo lay-up — his attacks on the rim were bountiful with many a beautiful finish — made it an 85-80 game with 8:52 left.

When the backup point guard wasn’t scoring, he was finding teammates.

A minute later, the deficit was three, but the Nuggets didn’t fold. Back-to-back 3s gave them a nine-point lead, though Alvarado, Larry Nance Jr. and Willy Hernangomez announced with their play they were far from finished.

Fantastic action on both sides of the ball by the trio powered another charge, and with the help of two bad passes by Jamal Murray, Hernangomez’s two free throws gave the Pelicans a 98-97 lead with 36.9 seconds left.

Denver retook the lead immediately on a Jokic runner on their next possession and New Orleans failed to register that crucial final answer.

McCollum, who struggled with his perimeter shot as well as his passing, missed a turnaround fadeaway from the midrange and a 3-pointer during the game’s final six seconds. A Herb Jones’ putback, sandwiched in between CJ’s two misses, was blocked.

Three chances to hit pay dirt, but no checks were cashed. And a golden opportunity was missed on the game’s final play when Jones failed to see Hernangomez get free on a cut to the rim.

“We ran a play to get CJ (McCollum) an open shot,” Hernangomez said. “After watching the play, I was also open. Herb (Jones) came to me right away and told me ‘I’m sorry I missed you.’ Everything is a learning experience. There’s nothing we can do right now but watch the video and get better. We need to make sure next time we have another opportunity to close the game, we execute it right and find the open guy.”

New Orleans’ effort level was fantastic against the Heat several days ago, but turnovers left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. On this night though, there was no such issue. The undermanned squad fought tough and nail while enjoying better execution. The second half was particularly special and a lot of that had to do with the head coach’s speech at intermission.

“Coach Willie Green told us that wasn’t us in the first half,” Alvarado said. “No matter what he draws, no matter what he shows, if we go out there and play like that, the score is going to be the same. He told us to go out there and be us. No matter if you miss shots or what, play Pelican basketball and bring the juice. That’s what we did.”

Simply not enough shots dropped consistently, as evidenced by five makes in 26 attempts from 3-point range.

CJ McCollum led the Pelicans with 20 points, but it took 22 attempts to reach that total, He missed all eight of his 3-pointers, adding six turnovers to boot. It’s honestly almost shocking to see some of the passes he attempts because a simple survey of the opponent’s defense should prevent the ball from ever leaving his hands.

Jonas Valanciunas had 14 points and Trey Murphy added another 10, but the offensive stars of the night were clearly three reserves.

Jose Alvarado scored 17 points and had three assists. He made eight of 12 from the field, smartly attacking a Denver defense that was without a true rim protector. It was his most solid performance in some time and he wanted to thank his teammates for their continued belief in him.

“My teammates,” Alvarado said. “This game of basketball is beautiful and filled with ups and downs. For them to just stay solid with me and continue to just let me be Jose. I just wanted to win so bad. Regardless if it was with scoring, taking a charge, or getting a steal, I just wanted to win so bad. I wanted to bring something, I bring the juice. I feel like I haven’t been bringing as much juice as I used to so today so today I had to say forget all that and bring Jose.”

Willy Hernangomez made a strong case for continued playing time with his line of 12 points, six rebounds and two assists. He missed just two of his seven field goal attempts and posted a team-best +13 plus-minus.

Larry Nance Jr. added 10 points, six rebounds and a block. His multiple efforts led to New Orleans possessions continuing and Denver’s concluding.

The Second Line was off-the-charts great. The starting lineup not so much. But a big boost in the form of Brandon Ingram could be added to the mix for Wednesday’s contest against the Timberwolves.

Don’t despair. It feels like this losing streak is close to being over. Repeat this type of effort, and if Ingram can suit up and find any rhythm, the Pelicans’ first victory in 12 days appears a distinct possibility.

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.

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