Pelicans rally falls short despite Miller breakout game
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
LAS VEGAS - If Darius Miller had written a to-do list entering summer league, one of the first items would’ve simply read “be more aggressive.” The small forward was one of the shyest players in the entire NBA last season when it came to shooting the ball, and went the final seven games of 2012-13 without scoring a point.
That version of Miller would be unrecognizable to anyone who watched the second half of Wednesday’s NBA Summer League first-round tournament game vs. Denver. In the most attacking style of play Miller has shown in a New Orleans uniform, the Kentucky product racked up 20 second-half points. He nearly powered the 11th-seeded Pelicans back from a 16-point deficit, but the 22nd-ranked Nuggets held on for an 87-82 triumph.
The loss eliminated New Orleans from the first-ever Las Vegas league tournament, a single-elimination affair that includes a total of 22 teams. The Pelicans’ final game action this summer will take place Friday at 3 p.m. Central, in a loser's bracket matchup vs. Washington on NBA TV.
In scoring a team-best 23 points overall, Miller went 8-for-15 from the field (including 2-for-6 from three-point range), while also going 5-for-6 on foul shots. By comparison, he only attempted a total of eight free throws during the entire 2012-13 regular season. The most attempts from the field he fired in a single game as a rookie was seven.
Miller bounced back from a quiet first half to help New Orleans make several rallies against hot-shooting Denver (12-for-22 from three-point range). In uncharacteristic fashion, Miller even attempted a couple off-balance long-range shots in the final few minutes, after hitting a string of deep jumpers.
“I thought I did a better job of that in the second half,” Miller said of attacking offensively. “Hopefully next time I can do it the whole game. I wasn’t hesitating to take shots. My teammates and my coaches want me to shoot the ball. I’ve got to continue this. Hopefully it can carry over into the next game, and into the future.”
Denver won for the first time in Las Vegas competition, behind a stellar offensive performance. Two players did most of the damage for the Nuggets, with Jordan Hamilton erupting for 18 points in the first quarter and equaling Miller’s game-high tally of 23. Another Miller, Denver’s Quincy Miller, was a perfect 5-for-5 from the three-point arc among his 17 points.
“They came out, let their hair down and fired (shots) up,” New Orleans summer head coach Bryan Gates said of Denver. “I thought we got in chase mode. We got (close) two or three times, but never got the defensive stop to put us over the edge.”
Along with Darius Miller, two other Pelicans reached double figures in scoring. Brian Roberts was an efficient 8-for-12 from the field for 17 points, while Austin Rivers contributed 16 points.