Riding the hot hand, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry stuck with Julius Randle in the starting lineup on Friday night even though Nikola Mirotic was healthy.
Randle and the starters did their part, but the bench was brutal.
After trailing 100-92 with 5:10 left, Memphis (15-9) rallied to win 107-103 at as New Orleans (13-14) finished 1-2 in a three-game home stand and fell back below .500 entering a stretch when it has six of eight on the road. The Pelicans missed their last nine shots, including potential tying 3-pointers by Anthony Davis and E’Twaun Moore in the final 15 seconds.
“We just didn’t finish out the game,” said guard Jrue Holiday, who missed a go-ahead 3-pointer in the final 30 seconds while rushing to beat the shot clock. “That’s really what it came down to.”
The Grizzlies reserves outscored the Pelicans reserves 53-11, with JaMychal Green scoring a team-high 24 points and Joakim Noah, playing his second game since signing with Memphis, adding 13 points.
Mirotic, who missed the previous two games with an illness, could not get into a rhythm, shooting 1 for 6 in 20 minutes. Moore matched that 1 for 6 effort while coming off the bench for only the second time this year, and Darius Miller went 1 of 5, all on 3-pointers.
“Yeah (getting only 11 points off the bench makes it hard to win), but at the same time we’re a team,” Holiday said. “The starters should kind of pick up the slack, and we were still in the game at the end. It was just execution.”
Randle, who had gone 26 of 40 with 64 points while starting for Mirotic in the previous two games, stayed hot. He scored 11 points in the first eight minutes, hitting a contested outside shot, cutting to the basket for a dunk off a pass from point guard Tim Frazier and turning it into a 3-point play when he was fouled, driving for a dunk and scoring off an offensive rebound. In the midst of those baskets, he fed Davis for an easy alley oop.
Randle finished with a team-high 26 points and 13 rebounds, Davis had 25 points and 11 rebounds and Jrue Holiday scored 20 points with 11 assists.
Plus, Solomon Hill drained four 3-pointers — double his previous high — in six attempts while starting for only the third time.
“It doesn’t matter if I hit 12 of them if we lose,” Hill said. “When I hit a 3, they came down and hit another 3.”
Frazier appeared to be a key basket, too, taking an inbounds pass in the final two seconds of the third quarter and sinking an off-balance 34-footer that drew the Pelicans within 1 and sparked an 11-2 push at the start of the fourth.
But the made 3s were few and far between. New Orleans finished 7 of 29 from long range.
The Pelicans also were cold defensively in the early stages, a season-long issue.
Noah had three uncontested dunks, with the last one giving Memphis a 44-35 lead with 7:32 left in the second quarter. At that point, the Grizzlies had hit 58.6 percent of their shots, getting whatever they wanted.
New Orleans clamped down from there. By halftime, the Grizzlies were below 50 percent, missing 12 of their last 17 from the floor, and they finished at 47 percent.
The difference in the Pelicans’ effort was clear. When Marc Gasol, who had two early dunks of his own, rolled to the basket in the final minute of the first half for what would have been an uncontested hoop earlier, he had to convert a twisting, high-degree-of-difficulty lay-up.
The ball went in, but there was nothing free. The next time down the court, Noah drove the lane and Davis blocked his dunk attempt with ease.
When the Pelicans went up by 8 in the fourth quarter, they were on the verge of a confidence-building win. Instead, they lost in frustrating fashion, and Davis did not stick around to talk about it, exiting the Smoothie King Center before the locker room was open to reporters.
“You have to finish the game,” Gentry said. “That’s just the bottom line. It’s not really complicated. It’s simple things. You get to the point where you’re 8 up at home with five (minutes) to go, you’ve got to finish the game. We didn’t get it done.”
Moore missed the final opportunity.
“It was a good open 3,” he said. “It was a clean look, but I missed it.”