In previous years my end of the season thoughts about the New Orleans Pelicans have been full of sorrow. Yes, the Pelicans season is over. Yes, it was at the hands of the Golden State Warriors. But this time I and many other Pelicans fans feel different. While frustrated, it’s important to realize this team maximized expectations for the 2017-2018 NBA season. Winning record-yep, build the confidence of the fans in New Orleans-yep, reach the Playoffs and win a series-yep. They did so by fighting through early season struggles, devastating injuries, the death of team owner Tom Benson and constant disrespect from the NBA’s national media. By season’s end the team was able to fill a football frenzied city with hoop dreams.
This all started last February. The Pelicans got Boogie Cousins in a blockbuster trade and my hopes skyrocketed. All I could tell people was give them “one summer and Playoffs was a no brainer.” Despite having 2 – top 15 caliber players most national media didn’t believe. Over the summer the Pels added veteran point guard Rajon Rondo at Boogie’s request and signed former Golden State guard Ian Clark. They also brought back Darius Miller from overseas. The most controversial moment of the 2017 summer centered around Jrue Holiday’s new contract.
Early in the season the team and Jrue were struggling to find consistency. You’d see glimpses of why the team could be great but only for one game, half, or quarter. Then in January something clicked. With Anthony Davis and Boogie Cousins throwing up major numbers the Pelicans went 9-5 and had their signature win of the season. That win over the Houston Rockets also came with a season ending injury to Cousins. Boogie tore his Achilles and all of that positive energy was gone. The Pelicans wound up losing 5 of their next 6 games and the Playoffs looked gloomy. Insert General Manager Dell Demps and head coach Alvin Gentry. Demps traded for Niko Mirotic and Gentry with the help of his coaching staff did the rest. Thanks to Niko’s skill set, the Pelicans played at the NBA’s fastest pace – 102.73 – during the regular season. New Orleans was able to sandwich a 10-game win streak around the All-Star Break and had casual fans as excited as they’ve ever been. The team hit a wall in March and played some average basketball. They entered the last 5 games of the regular season needing wins after a 4-game losing streak.
With the race for Western Conference Playoff spots super competitive, the Pels ended the season on a 5-game win streak. Anthony Davis had a monster stretch to end the season and fans around the league got a glimpse of the all star caliber basketball Jrue Holiday was playing on both ends of the court. New Orleans won 48 games and grabbed the 6th seed in the West as they entered the Playoffs to face Portland. As you can see below NONE of the NBA folks at ESPN gave the Pelicans a chance to win the series.
The Pels went on to sweep Portland 4-0 (the only sweep in the First Round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs). Led by Jrue Holiday, the team played excellent defense on Dame Lillard and C.J. McCollum all series. The Blazers never had an answer to get them going on offense while struggling to handle the Pelicans prolific offense on the other end. New Orleans closed out the series in front of a packed crowd. Jrue and AD posted monster numbers to seal the final game of the series. Jrue had 41 points and 8 assists while AD had 47 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks.
As mentioned above, the season ended with a 4-1 series defeat to the Golden State Warriors. The team and fans shouldn’t hang their heads for long. Even with the tough decisions looming ahead this summer fans should be proud and celebrate how this team always stuck together and battled. The Pels brought a lot of fun moments this season as they lived up to the team mantra “Do It Big”.