It was a history-setting night for Elfrid Payton and Julius Randle, the definitive energy sources for the Pelicans for the second time in as many games. But without three starters against the playoff-bound Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans wasn’t able to grind out a victory.
Against the squad they managed to sweep in the first round of last year’s playoffs, the Pelicans (30-41) finished winless in the regular-season series against Portland (42-26), falling 122-110 Friday night at the Smoothie King Center and extending the team’s losing streak to five with the Phoenix Suns visiting Saturday to complete New Orleans’ final back-to-back of the season.
Payton became the first player in Pelicans history to record three consecutive triple-doubles, finishing with 14 points, 12 rebounds and a career-high 16 assists one night after logging 14, 15 and 11. His previous high in assists (15) came back in March 2017 with the Magic.
“I just think he’s playing like we thought he was capable of playing all along,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “More than anything, I think he’s doing a great job of rebounding from that position.”
Randle notched a career-high 45 points, breaking his previous personal best of 37 set on Dec. 3 against the Clippers. He also added 11 rebounds and six assists but struggled at the free-throw line, shooting just 3 for 11 from the charity stripe. As a team, the Pelicans shot 12 for 25 from the line.
“I thought he played with great force,” Gentry added. “I thought he attacked the rim and did a great job all night playing against a double or triple-team and getting the ball in a position where he can score.”
Randle stormed out of the gate, taking advantage of the Trail Blazers being willing to play him straight-up sinking 9-of-12 buckets in the first quarter for 21 of his team’s 37 points, tying a franchise season-high for points in a quarter. As a squad, New Orleans shot 17 for 23 and led Portland 37-30.
They would continue to hold onto a 57-56 halftime lead, despite shooting 26.1 percent (6 for 23) from the field in the second quarter, holding the Trail Blazers’ star backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to 16 first-half points combined. But Lillard’s 12 in the third helped give his team an 87-82 edge heading into the game’s final 12 minutes, where Portland began to heat up.
Gentry’s squad largely kept Lillard and McCollum from dominating the lane, but got torched from beyond the arc, with the Portland starting guard tandem shooting a combined 7 for 13 from deep. Lillard led the team with 24 points to go with seven assists, while McCollum finished with 23 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Seth Curry, who notched eight points off the bench, drained one to start the fourth quarter, giving Portland its largest lead of the game at the time, 90-82. The Pelicans would run back within two, 92-90, with the help of a 6-0 run capped with a Frank Jackson dunk with 9:02 left. But McCollum drained a deep ball to extend the lead back to six, 100-94. He added another moments later for an eight-point lead, and Lillard drained one on top of his to push the lead to nine with 5:18 left.
“They’ve got two guys very used to closing games, and when they needed big shots, CJ made them,” Gentry said. “I think we played hard and competed at a real high level, but we just have to make those plays when it’s a one or two-possession game. We’ve got to make those plays to keep it right there so we have an opportunity at the end.”
Jackson finished second on the team with 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting, and Jahlil Okafor, who returned to the starting lineup after resting Tuesday with an ankle sprain, dished in 10 points in 12 minutes.