LAS VEGAS — The first half of the Pelicans’ 83-81 comeback win over the D-League Select team was not a kind one to rookie guard Russ Smith. He could get into the lane at will, but he didn’t always have a plan once he got there. While he had a few nice passes, they were the types that came in the heat of the moment rather than by design. Smith’s production, at least in terms of creating for others, favored results over the process. In terms of scoring, Smith simply couldn’t get the ball to go through the net. He finished the half shooting 1-for-7 from the field while turning the ball over four times.
The second half was a completely different story, as Smith came out both energized but also with none of the jitters that seemed to afflict him in the first frame. Finally finding a rhythm, Smith shot 7-for-10 in the second half, scoring both at the rim and from range. After the game, Smith said that seeing the ball go in the basket was big for his confidence and keyed his second half turnaround, when the Pels closed the game on a 21-2, overcoming a 79-62 deficit.
Josh Howard stands tall
The elderly statesmen of the Pelicans’ summer league team was also the most consistent player, operating as essentially the team’s only source of offense in the first half. Howard had an advantage in the post, and the Pelicans did their best to get him the ball down low. Even in his prime, Howard was never an elite athlete, relying instead on craft and body control to score. Now, years after his prime, Howard still uses these attributes and, at least Friday night, also had the added benefit of being a better athlete than most of the players on the D-League Select roster.
Offense appears when needed
Summer league is an absolute grind. The play is sloppy, and, save for the few stud rookies and sophomores, most of these players will be on D-League or overseas rosters. So it’s not surprising that, in the first half of the first game, there was little that could be called offensive rhythm. The Pelicans had absolutely none. They had two shot clock violations just a few minutes into the second quarter, and at least one in the first. Outside of Josh Howard, no one could score. It’s not easy, of course. This isn’t a roster that’s experienced with one another, so there isn’t any innate chemistry between players. Smith doesn’t know the exact height at which Jeff Withey likes to receive the ball, while Abdul Gaddy doesn’t have the timing right when Courtney Fells curls off a screen.
When the entire team isn’t clicking, it usually falls to an individual to get the offense back on track. Friday night, Smith shouldered that responsibility. His individual second-half surge spurred on the rest of the team, as they used a 21-2 run to come back and win the game. The game-winning possession, fittingly, came down to the night’s two best players, with Smith finding Howard for the go-ahead 3-pointer.
Smith, on the biggest difference in the second half: “Defensive intensity and halfcourt execution defensively. We did a good job of helping each other, and then we started getting offensive rebounds. The psyche as a whole defensively (picked up).”
Howard, on what he’s trying to show at Summer League: “That I can still play. Something that was always said to me was ‘you always ride until the wheels fall off,’ and my wheels are still rolling.”