There was a moment in Game 1 of the Pelicans/Warriors series where the camera caught the reaction of Pelicans players on the bench during the shellacking. The signs were all there: hung heads, blank stares, deep breaths. These signs are indicative of a team that felt hopeless, even though it was only one game. Sometimes, that sort of emotion can stick with you and be the death knell in a playoff series.
The Pelicans players and coaches didn’t reflect this leading up to Game 2. They still showed hope, were upbeat, and thought they had a shot in the series. And even though they fell to the Warriors again in Game 2, their tough play proved two very important things: this team doesn’t quit, and this team needs wing depth.
Yes, that’s right, this is going to be a simultaneous “moral victory” article and a “how do we improve the team” article. I’m multi-faceted.
Let’s focus on the first part, because it’s important. Players and coaches will never hang their hats on moral victories. Nor should they. But for followers of the team, there is something to be said about last night’s game, how the Pelicans responded to an absolute thrashing to come back and make the Warriors sweat for 46 minutes. The play gave the team confidence that they could hang with the Warriors, and looking at the free throw disparity gives the team an edge that they can build on going into Game 3 in New Orleans. The team doesn’t feel that the series is over, and their gutsy performance should keep the hope alive in Pels’ fans as well.
It can’t be overstated how good this Warriors team is, and how daunting this task is. The Pelicans were somehow taken by surprise in Game 1, but they focused all of their energy and played a complete game of basketball in Game 2, outscoring the Warriors in the paint, won the turnover battle, and kept pace with the Warriors rebounding, which was a real concern. And they still lost. That sounds depressing, but I think it shows how good this Pelicans team can be, and it should be something the team and its fans can be proud of. The Pelicans won’t fold, no matter how much bigger this Goliath is.
Feeling a little bit better about the loss yet? Good, because we just passed the rosy part of this article. Now on to the less fun part. The tough climb, if you will.
Because I’m talking about Solomon Hill.
You know. Hills. Climbing.
Look, we don’t need the numbers to tell us Hill has struggled in this series. But you know what, I dug for them and I have them here, so we may as well mention it. Hill has posted a negative net rating with every starter in the lineup, even in extremely limited minutes. The Pelicans are 13 points worse when Hill and Davis share the floor together, even though that was only in *six* minutes of play! Hill has had trouble switching on defense, and the Warriors are leaving him so wide open that I thought they forgot he was on the court. He can’t make them pay right now, and if he’s not rebounding, defending, or scoring, he doesn’t really have a place on the floor.
Except he needs to have a place on the floor, because who else are the Pelicans going to throw out there? Darius Miller, whose greatest asset is drawing fouls on three point plays when he actually decides to pull the trigger? Ian Clark, who isn’t tall enough to guard any forward (and can barely guard any guard)? Deandre Liggins, who has only seen garbage time for the past three months? E’Twaun Moore, who has played very well in this series but can’t pull a LeBron and stay out there for 48 minutes?
And this is the problem, the problem that everyone crowed about before the season, but has been barely hidden amongst the winning streaks, like the smell of spilled barbecue sauce that soaked into the floorboard of your car over a year ago. The Pelicans need to focus next year on improving their play on the wing. They need someone who doesn’t let their man go by, but also someone who isn’t given a wide berth around the perimeter like a fifth grader with cooties. Hill is better than he’s playing right now, but not by enough to count on him as a permanent solution.
This team is proving they have talent. What’s more, Coach Gentry is proving he can lead this talent further than most people anticipated. What’s even more, the team is proving they like playing with each other, and they play hard, and they don’t give up even when the odds are stacked against them. These are all good things. But in order to build on these good things, they need to keep improving the roster. Trevor Ariza isn’t walking through that door. (Until maybe the offseason?!) There are still at least two more games in this series, but the first two games have shown that there’s a lot of work to be done this summer if the Pelicans want to go further than they are now.