When the Utah Jazz went into halftime Monday leading New Orleans by five points, you could be forgiven for thinking that they’d soon be expanding that advantage. After all, they’ve pretty much dominated third quarters all season long.
The Pelicans had other ideas this time, though.
They controlled the boards. They pushed the ball in transition. They attacked the rim. They fed Zion Williamson relentlessly. And in doing so, they turned the game around, en route to a shocking 129-124 victory at the Smoothie King Center.
It was Utah’s second loss in three games, dropping the team to 27-8 on the season.
“Well, we didn’t protect the paint — that was the biggest thing. If they’re able to get in the paint as easy as they did, no amount of resolve, once the ball gets there, is going to be enough,” coach Quin Snyder said afterward. “There’s a lot of things that we didn’t do defensively. And that’s what we’ve done coming out of halftime — we’ve raised our level on the defensive end and been able to get out in transition and make people pay for those situations. But if we’re not getting stops, it’s harder for us to play offense.”
The Jazz did wind up making an incredible comeback in the latter half of the fourth — rallying from as many as 17 down and getting a couple shots at taking the lead with about 30 seconds remaining.
Problem was, they dug themselves such a sizable hole before that.
Utah didn’t really have much for the Pelicans on either end in that third quarter — shooting 11 of 27 (40.7%), including 2 of 9 from deep, while offering only token resistance to stopping anyone, as New Orleans made 15 of 23 shots (65.2%).
The Pelicans scored 24 points in the paint in the third alone, as part of an overall 40-26 advantage in the period.
The biggest difference was Williamson.
While it’s the Jazz who typically make the key adjustments at halftime, New Orleans deftly outmaneuvered them this time in getting the second-year All-Star going.
After being held relatively in check early on, totaling only nine points at halftime on 4-for-7 shooting, Williamson came out far more aggressive in the third period. On New Orleans’ first possession, off a Jazz miss, he hurried down the floor and scored a layup. Next time down, he outmuscled Bojan Bogdanovic and earned a trip to the line. The next time, Lonzo Ball threw a pinpoint three-quarters-court lob to the streaking Williamson, who elevated, caught it, and laid it in.
Nine points in the entire first two quarters. Six more points in the first minute and 25 seconds of the third.
Everyone the Jazz threw at him — Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale, Georges Niang, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert trying to come over from the weak side — failed to contain him, as he hit 6 of 9 shots in scoring 15 points in the quarter, and 26 in the game.
“He’s athletic, strong, he’s a great finisher around the rim. And then even if he doesn’t score the first one, he is one of the best in the league for grabbing his own misses and trying to dunk it or lay it in,” said Bogdanovic, who scored a game-high 31 points. “It’s pretty tough. If you give him the space, he’s attacking straight at you. It’s tough to guard him, actually.”
Williamson didn’t singularly decide the game, of course.
After blistering the nets in the first two quarters from beyond the arc (11 of 24), Utah’s outside shooting dried up after the break (6 for 19). The Jazz’s starting backcourt of Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley proved adept in playmaking (eight assists apiece) but struggled to get the ball in the hoop themselves, shooting a combined 11 of 33 from the field and just 3 for 14 beyond the arc. They were massively outrebounded, as the Pelicans grabbed 53 boards to their 39.
And their defense really didn’t do a ton all night, as New Orleans shot 56.5% for the game — thanks to the combination of 74 points in the paint and an incredibly efficient 7-for-11 night from 3-point range.
“When we’re better defensively, the offense takes care of itself. And we’ve seen that many times earlier in the season, when our mind is not in the right place,” said Gobert, who finished with 22 points and five blocks, but only nine rebounds. “When we don’t play the kind of defense that we know we can play, it usually affects our offense, too. And those nights are usually not our best nights. … I think we — and I especially — could have done a better job in the third quarter.”
Mitchell, who finished with 21 points, eight assists and four rebounds, said the Jazz “knew exactly what we had to do and we just didn’t execute.” Once the Pelicans dialed up their intensity a bit to begin that third quarter, the Jazz simply didn’t respond accordingly, thereby allowing a collection of small problems to compound into a bigger one.
“They honestly just did the same things — it was really just our lack of urgency, attention to detail, focus on the little things. They gave the ball to Zion, they ran the small-small pick-and-roll, he got downhill, and if he missed, there was a rebound, or a drop-off. We fouled JJ Redick three times. We gotta be better than that as a whole,” said Mitchell. “Turnovers on the offensive end — jumping out of bounds, throwing [the ball] knowing they’re not leaving shooters. This was not the game to do that. There was a lot of different things that we can do better. They came out aggressive and they were hunting tonight.
“And we weren’t ready for it.”
PELICANS 129, JAZZ 124
Bogdanovic 11-21 2-3 31, O'Neale 3-8 0-0 8, Gobert 9-13 4-6 22, Conley 4-12 0-0 10, Mitchell 7-21 6-6 21, Favors 2-4 0-0 4, Niang 3-5 0-0 8, Ingles 0-3 0-0 0, Clarkson 7-14 3-3 20. Totals 46-101 15-18 124.
NEW ORLEANS (129)
Ingram 11-20 4-4 26, Williamson 10-17 6-9 26, Adams 2-6 1-2 5, Ball 9-16 2-2 23, Bledsoe 5-13 0-0 11, Hernangomez 4-5 0-0 8, Hart 6-7 1-2 13, Redick 5-8 4-4 17. Totals 52-92 18-23 129.
Utah 23 41 24 36 — 124
New Orleans 26 33 40 30 — 129
3-Point Goals_Utah 17-43 (Bogdanovic 7-11, Clarkson 3-7, Niang 2-4, O’Neale 2-5, Conley 2-6, Mitchell 1-8, Ingles 0-2), New Orleans 7-11 (Redick 3-4, Ball 3-5, Bledsoe 1-2). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Utah 39 (Gobert 9), New Orleans 53 (Adams 11). Assists_Utah 26 (Conley, Mitchell 8), New Orleans 27 (Ball 8). Total Fouls_Utah 22, New Orleans 15. A_2,700 (16,867)