After 19 straight wins, the Atlanta Hawks finally lost a game Monday, falling to the New Orleans Pelicans, 115-110.
These might be the dog days of the NBA season, but for New Orleans (26-22), which improved to 17-6 at home, this wasn’t your typical Monday-night, day-after-the-Super-Bowl game. No, this one had a palpable playoff feel to it.
That’s what happens when you host a team that entered with the best record in the league.
“Last night was one of those games where we just had to be really prepared,” Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson said on The Doug Gottlieb Show. “We had to be focused – and we were. From shoot-around, we really had to prepare for a great defensive game and obviously we needed to move the ball and keep them working. We just did a great job of playing team basketball. We moved the ball. We really kind of exposed their defense and made it kind of tough for guys like (Kyle) Korver to shoot the ball. We did a great job locking them up.”
Korver scored 12 points – his lowest output in five games. He also made just two three-pointers, this after making at least four in three of his previous four games.
The Pelicans, meanwhile, were solid in all phases. They shot 50.0 percent from the floor, 39.1 percent from three-point range and 87 percent from the foul line. They destroyed Atlanta on the glass (52-32), had far more assists (30-19) and had more than three times as many blocks (10-3).
Having six players finish in double figures didn’t hurt, either.
“For us, our team really does a great job (sharing the ball),” Anderson said. “We have so many different guys that can score the ball, so many different guys that demand so much attention. Tyreke (Evans) has been doing such a great job of taking the ball to the basket and really creating a lot of help-side opportunities. There’s a ton of open looks that he’s been creating for guys. I think he does that for any team guarding him but especially last night – we moved the ball, we found the right guy, we found the guy with the hot hand.”
Evans had 15 points and 12 assists, while Anthony Davis led the way with 29 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
“Anthony obviously creates so much attention for himself, too,” Anderson said. “Those guys did such a great job of just finding the open man and kicking the ball out when they were double-teamed or had so much focus on them. It’s just making that extra pass, making an extra screen. We’re great in fast-break situations, but swinging it to the open man and sacrificing a good shot for a great shot, that’s just good basketball. We’ve been winning games playing like that.”
Away from the court, it’s been a tough year for Anderson, whose girlfriend, Gia Allemand, died after a suicide attempt last August. She was 29.
Anderson has leaned on his teammates for support.
“Guys have been great about it,” said Anderson, 26. “It’s hard. It’s something that I never expected to experience. But my team, my family here in New Orleans – these guys have just been great with me. From day one when I walked into the gym, I thought the toughest thing was going to be looking the guys in the eye. What are they going to say? What do you say? There’s really nothing to say.”
Anderson’s teammates, however, have been nothing but supportive and understanding and have helped him throughout the grieving and healing process, which is ongoing.
“Guys have just kind of had my back and been there for me,” Anderson said. “There’s just so many guys that I really just give so much thanks to. And obviously (head coach) Monty (Williams). Coach has done such a great job and we have such an open relationship just communicating – because it is hard. There are some really tough days still. Obviously it’s very fresh and it’s going to be something that’s a big part of my life for the rest of my life. But having guys like Monty and great friends on the team and people around just to have my back and support me has been such a blessing through this whole process.”