LAS VEGAS — The No. 11-seeded New Orleans Pelicans never quite could get out of a hole that the last seed, the No. 22 Denver Nuggets, put them in during an 87-82 loss in the first tournament game of the NBA Summer League on Wednesday.
With the loss to the Nuggets (1-3 in the NBA Summer League), the Pelicans (2-2) were dropped into a consolation finale against the Washington Wizards at 5:30 p.m. CST on Friday.
The Pelicans, though, made a late bid to advance during the final four minutes when they made a 13-7 run to close out the game.
The rally started with eight straight points from Brian Roberts’ 3-pointer, Austin Rivers’ 3-pointer and basket, a jumper from Roberts and a 3-pointer from Darius Miller with 24 seconds left.
It wasn’t the first gallant effort from Miller. He scored seven of the Pelicans’ first nine points of the fourth quarter, which brought the Pelicans within one point of the lead at 70-69. However, the Nuggets then went on a 10-0 run and had an 80-69 lead.
The Pelicans never led in the game and trailed by as many as 16 points in the first quarter. Two consecutive 3-pointers by Jordan Hamilton increased the Nuggets’ lead to 25-9 with 2:16 left in the first quarter.
Hamilton scored 16 of those first 25 points, including the first five points of the game. He led all scorers with 18 points on 75 percent (6-for-8) field-goal shooting for the first quarter.
For the game, Hamilton matched Miller with a game-high 23 points. Roberts scored 17 and Rivers had 16 for the Pelicans, while Denver also received 17 from Quincy Miller and 14 from Erick Green.
“We dug ourselves a huge hole in the first and second quarters,” Miller said. “We tried our best to fight back, but they kept making clutch buckets; they would hit shot after shot. Some would be tough shots, some would be mental lapses from us. But you’ve got to give them credit, they continued to fight the whole 40 minutes. We tried to fight back but we just didn’t have it in us.
“I think we all learned a valuable lesson. As a team and as individual players, we can’t get off to slow starts like that. And if you do, sometimes you don’t have enough in you to fight back at the end. We gave it all we had, but we dug ourselves such a big hole we couldn’t get it at the end.”
Quincy Miller made four 3-pointers in the third quarter for the Nuggets, who held a 68-60 lead with one quarter to go. The Pelicans trailed by as many as 15 points during the third quarter.
Jon Brockman and Rivers each had six points in the second quarter, as the Pelicans trailed 49-38 at halftime. Rivers led the Pelicans with nine points and four rebounds during the first two quarters.
Rivers’ free throw with 4:53 left in the second quarter cut the Nuggets’ lead to 35-32, but then Denver went on a 14-6 run to close out the quarter. Evan Fournier made two 3-pointers during that run, including the final three points of the quarter for the Nuggets.
“We felt like we were chasing in a marathon: run, run, run after them and then we’d see them in front of us, we’d kind of exhale for a second then they’d sprint again,” Pelicans Summer League coach Bryan Gates said. “I thought our effort was there; we were trying.
“To their defense, once you start seeing that thing go in as they did in the first quarter, especially Hamilton, you see that thing starting to go in, it (the basket) just gets a little bit bigger, your confidence gets a little higher, you have a little bit more confidence to get into people defensively. I just thought they had us on our heels.
“They shot the ball great today, and it wasn’t like they were getting them in the same spot. They’d hit a couple in the corner, they’d hit a couple in transition, they hit one with a pick-and-roll, so then we’d change the coverage and they would adjust and make a shot.
“With the 24-second shot clock and the talent of guys, I don’t think any lead is ever really safe. You give a lot of credit to Denver, they’ve been missing shots for three games, and they came out and let their hair down and fired the thing up. Jordan Hamilton got them going with the 18 points in the first quarter. We got there two or three different times, but we never got the defensive stop to get us over the edge.”
Guard Pierre Jackson did not play because of viral conjunctivitis or “pink eye,” according to the Pelicans. Jackson, who is from Las Vegas, was a second-round draft choice acquired in a trade with Philadelphia that also brought Jrue Holiday to New Orleans.