MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Only 24 hours after beating the best team the Western Conference has to offer and clawing back into the playoffs, the Pelicans found themselves right back on the brink with a 110-74 loss to the Grizzlies on Wednesday night in Memphis.
Such is life in the West, where the competition is relentless and the margin is ever slim.
Coming off a 103-100 win against Golden State in New Orleans, virtually nothing went right for the Pelicans on Wednesday night. They were stifled on the offensive end and were never able to settle into a rhythm against the defensive-oriented Grizzlies; only three Pelicans finished in double figures scoring.
Anthony Davis finished with 12 points and five rebounds, Quincy Pondexter had 11, and Tyreke Evans scored 10.
“It was just a tough game for us,” coach Monty Williams said. “This was a game they needed, and they played with a great deal of desperation. We looked tired out there.”
Traditionally, the Pelicans (42-36) have been able to frustrate the Grizzlies — a team that depends on its low-post play — with their length and athleticism. In theory, there may be no more blatant kryptonite for a low-flying bruiser like Zach Randolph than the wingspan of Davis.
On Wednesday, Randolph looked like he was on a mission, notching a double-double by halftime and consistently bullying Davis underneath the basket. To make matters worse, the Grizzlies owned the boards, 50-36, often limiting the Pelicans to one (usually ill-advised) shot per possession.
“They dominated us down low,” Pelicans guard Eric Gordon said. “They tried to bully us a little bit.”
The game started promisingly enough: With the help of former Memphis Grizzly Pondexter and his new-to-Memphis 3-point celebration, the Pelicans jumped out to an early first-quarter lead. Pondexter, who was traded earlier this year, started 3-of-3 from the field.
But when Williams went to his bench at the start of the second, the Pelicans went cold and never recovered. The Grizzlies rattled off a 14-2 run midway through the second and held the Pelicans to just 22 percent shooting for the quarter.
At one point in the second quarter, the offense had degenerated into only bad shots and the Pelicans simply hoping for the officials to bail them out on foul calls; the Grizzlies entered halftime with a 55-36 lead.
Meanwhile, the Grizzlies got just about every shot they wanted playing their distinct style — the deliberate, high pick-and-roll, physical brand that has defined the franchise the past five years.
Randolph and Gasol, the Grizzlies’ two premier bigs, combined for 30 points, 21 rebounds, and 12 assists. As a team, the Grizzlies shot 51 percent.
It seemed as though the Pelicans, fighting for their playoff lives, ran into an angry Grizzlies team that was determined to get back on track after two straight losses.
The lead ballooned to as much as 40 after a Jordan Adams 3-pointer late in the fourth. Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger was able to empty his bench halfway through the final period in lopsided loss.
Whether the Pelicans were emotionally spent on the second night of a back-to-back after a huge win against the class of the NBA, the Western Conference certainly won’t wait up.
Outside of Pondexter’s hot start individually, New Orleans was just flat, finishing at 35 percent shooting.
“We can’t make excuses,” Davis said. “Everyone’s tired this time of year. We put a lot into that game, but that would be a cop-out to say that’s why we played like we did tonight.”
The good news for the Pelicans is that, though their record is the same, they own the tiebreaker over the Oklahoma City Thunder. With four games left, New Orleans controls its own destiny; as long as the Pelicans match the Thunder’s record down the stretch, they’ll be in. But count Wednesday night as a squandered chance to widen the gap over the Thunder against a sliding team the Pelicans have had great success against the last two seasons.
“We’re still right there,” Gordon said. “We just got to keep on pushing. We’ve just gotta keep it going.”