What if I told you the New Orleans Pelicans held the Oklahoma City Thunder without a field goal for almost half of the fourth quarter on Sunday?

Five minutes and 14 seconds, to be exact.

You’d probably assume the Pelicans did what no other team had done in Game 1 of this year's NBA playoffs — steal a win on the road.


The Pelicans let that defensive effort go to waste, matching it with some offensive ineptitude of their own down the stretch in what ended up being a gut-wrenching 94-92 loss.

If the Pelicans end up losing this series in six or seven games, they’ll no doubt look back at this coulda, woulda, shoulda Game 1 setback at Paycom Center.

It was a gutsy performance, the best one by any of the eight road teams on the opening weekend of the playoffs. Too bad the Pels have nothing to show for their effort, done in by the final stretch when they simply couldn’t make a play (or a basket) when they needed one.

The Pels scored just two points over the last 3:33 of the game, which was enough to negate their stellar defensive effort earlier in the quarter.

The only Pelicans’ basket over the final 3? minutes was an 11-foot jumper by CJ McCollum with 26 seconds left that cut the Pels’ deficit to 93-92. Moments later, McCollum missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

Watching McCollum dribble for the game's final 14 seconds after a timeout, then get the ball poked away briefly by OKC rookie Cason Wallace before launching the final shot, wasn't the prettiest way to end this one. Ideally, the Pelicans would have gotten a better look.?

“I thought it was cash, but I missed it long,” McCollum said. “The game shouldn’t have come to that.”

Nope, it shouldn’t have.

The Pelicans, who scratched and clawed themselves out of a 10-point deficit, took a 90-88 lead on a Brandon Ingram layup after a steal. But their side of the scoreboard got stuck on those 90 points for the next three minutes.

Here is a recap of their next five possessions after the Ingram layup.

? Offensive foul on Herb Jones.

? A turnover after a rebound by Larry Nance Jr., who threw the ball to Trey Murphy. Too bad Murphy was still standing out of bounds and trying to establish himself back inbounds.?

? A missed dunk by Nance.

? A charging call on Ingram.

? And then the worst possession of the game, where the Pelicans grabbed three offensive rebounds and failed to score. That possession ended with Chet Holmgren blocking a Nance shot, and the Thunder taking a 92-90 lead that it wouldn’t relinquish.

“We needed to be more poised when we got those rebounds,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said.?

If you’ve watched the Pelicans this season, you’ve seen this lack of poise late in games before.

After Sunday’s loss, the Pelicans dropped to 1-8 in games decided by three points or less. The silver lining is that it was just one game of a series that very well could go the distance if the Pelicans play like they played Sunday.?

“The encouraging thing is we lost by two tonight,” Ingram said. “Some of our players didn’t have their best game. I’m encouraged by that.”

One of those players would be Ingram himself.

Ingram, expected to have to do his share of the heavy lifting in the absence of Zion Williamson, finished with just 12 points on 5-of-17 shooting. That won't cut it in the playoffs. The Pelicans will need more from Ingram to have any chance of becoming just the seventh No. 8 seed to knock off a No. 1 seed in the NBA playoffs.

There were some bright spots, most notably the Pelicans winning the offensive rebounding battle 18-8. And there was the play of Jonas Valanciunas (13 points, 20 rebounds) and Trey Murphy (a team-high 21 points and five 3-pointers).

But in the end, it wasn’t enough.

"I wouldn’t say we had it won, but we definitely had control of it coming down the stretch," Green said. "We let it slip away."

The Pelicans, as some players talked about prior to the game, were hoping the playoff experience from two years ago against the Phoenix Suns would help this time around.

“That's something we can hopefully lean on as an advantage for us that we do have some experience in the first round of the playoffs in a big, big game,” Nance said after the play-in win against the Sacramento Kings. “That playoff experience will definitely come in handy. When the game gets tight, we’ve been there before so we’ll stay calm.”

Turns out, that wasn’t the case.?

And because of that, the Pelicans are down 1-0 in a series they very well could be leading.

Email Rod Walker at rwalker@theadvocate.com.