Minutes after the Pelicans dismantled the Rockets 131-112, the ESPN studio crew dissected the game, and Paul Pierce wasn’t ready to give any credit to the Pelicans. “E’Twaun Moore is not going to get you 21 points every night,” he said slowly, as if reading the name E’Twaun Moore for the first time. “Niko Mirotic is not going to get you 30 points every night.” He then proceeded to bathe in salt on live television for five minutes.
But despite the bitter old man spiel, Pierce is somewhat right. Niko isn’t going to average 30 points a game. The Pelicans won’t shoot over 50 percent every night. Anthony Davis probably won’t get 8 assists every night (or maybe he will and the MVP is in the bag). But it doesn’t matter. Because last night’s game showed to the world the potential of the Pelicans, and it’s a petrifying prospect for their opponents. Because maybe they won’t do this every night, but they have shown they are more than capable of doing it when needed, against last year’s best regular season team in their own building. And Pelicans fans should be salivating, because what the Pelicans did tonight is possible every game.
The first game of the ACTUALLY BIG THREE (trademark pending) was a roaring success: Davis, Mirotic, and Julius Randle combined for 87 points and 34 rebounds. That would’ve outscored and out-rebounded the entire Grizzlies team last night. They were relentless, and more importantly they were versatile. Mirotic scored on deep bombs and cuts, AD scored on rim runs and turnarounds, and Randle unleashed a couple of long range shots that had me confused and excited. There is no way to defend all of them when they are effective from all areas, even for teams that actually defend unlike the Rockets.
Then there’s Elfrid Payton, who shed the hair and the negative feedback as he compiled the first triple double of the season. It was one of those Rondo/early Jason Kidd triple doubles that some fans will find a way to discount, but no one can discount the way Payton navigated the pace. After the game, Davis said he was vocal all night, and that’s something that will happen each game, even if the triple doubles don’t.
Before the game, I tweeted this:
This year I'm going to be focused on E'Twaun Moore. I believe he is incredibly important to the success of this team. He brings efficient scoring, and his ability or inability to guard when he plays out of position will be key to how well this team can defend.
— Jon Nathan Raby (@jnathanraby) October 16, 2018
And early on I was worried, because Moore struggled with the starting lineup. But part of what makes Moore so valuable to this team is how he never stops looking for advantages on offense. He grabbed two key offensive rebounds and was constantly cutting to find baskets. And most importantly, he was able to play for long stretches because the Rockets don’t have a small forward to make him pay on defense. So no, Paul, maybe E’Twaun won’t score 21 a night, but as long as the matchup is right, Moore will be an important and overlooked glue guy whose contributions will be incredibly important.
Speaking of defense, Jrue Holiday’s performance might be the most exciting part of last night’s win. Not just because he did a masterful job guarding Harden and Paul (also big shout out to Erman for scheming an effective trap that dared Capela and PJ Tucker to hurt them), but also because this team scored 131 points, and Jrue only had 10 of them. Offensively Holiday was quiet, and his 0-6 performance from three wasn’t ideal. But that’s actually good news — the team looked great offensively without Jrue, and he still contributed via playmaking and defense. Jrue’s ability to impact the game when his shot isn’t falling is great news.
The last thing that should excite fans regarding this team’s potential is the rotations. Gentry only ran an 8 man bench before the last two minutes last night. The bench was bolstered by Randle’s contributions, only scoring three points besides his 25. But it showed that Gentry is still figuring out who to throw out there. Ian Clark will get minutes, and Gentry will experiment with different stars with the rest of his bench. Last year the bench was a sore spot for the Pelicans. Tonight wasn’t great outside of Randle. But the potential is there.
It’s important to recognize that last night, while fun, was only one game. They won’t all be wins. There will be some nights where the Pelicans make us groan, where I’ll want to write an article about the future in bleak tones. But last night was important, because it showed us the team this can be. This can be a great team in the West, a team that boasts an MVP of the league. This can be a team that no team wants to play on any given night. And when it all comes together — or even only most of it — it’s going to be a fantastic season.