Following the aftermath of last night's 4th quarter debacle in their loss to Portland, one would think a great start would've been a nice way to start the Pelicans game tonight in Sacramento. Well, after trailing by seven after 12 minutes and nine at the half, it was abundantly clear the Pelicans would have to follow a different script and would require an inspired 2nd half to pick up the win. And that's just what Anthony Davis and the Pelicans were able to put together (for the entirety of the game, I might add).
Davis led the way with a very AD-esque stat line of 28 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks (and zero turnovers), and thanks to some big late-game shot-making by the walking, breathing human heart attack known as Tyreke Evans, New Orleans held on for a 106-100 win over the Kings. Evans did his typical Tyreke things, putting up 18 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists in his 31+ minutes. From missing gimme layups to hitting fallaway 25 footers and spinning floaters over DeMarcus Cousins just in the nick of time.
Ryan Anderson added 22 crucial points off the bench on 9-of-17 shooting. The guy makes his imprint on the game as soon as he enters. It's amazing how teams can just forget he's on the court and allow him turn a game around, as he did in the 3rd quarter tonight. Much to the chagrin of the Kings broadcasting team, who literally screamed at one point, "What are they doing? Why do they keep leaving him (Anderson) open?" He scored 9 straight points for the Pelicans late in the 3rd (on 3 wide-open threes of course) and was part of the 20-10 run for New Orleans in the last 7 minutes of the quarter.
The team closed the 3rd quarter on a tremendous note, with Davis putting the finishing touches on the quarter with two free throws, a monster defensive rebound (yes the rebound seen below qualifies as monstrous), and an alley-oop finish off the dish from Jrue Holiday. The Pelicans turned a 9-point deficit into a 7-point lead on the road. Observe the Brow:
The lead grew to 10 at one point in the 4th, but that's as big of a lead as the Pelicans would enjoy, as this one went down to the wire. Rudy Gay gave New Orleans fits at times with his size and strength, and he and the ever so brief Pelican (not to be confused with the reverse haha), Omri Casspi, got to the rim too easily at times in the period. Still, the Pelicans held firm and Evans and Eric Gordon (would you believe it!) hit some big shots to keep Sacramento at bay.
Cousins, whose 24 point, 17 rebound game thankfully didn't get too out of hand, didn't check back into the game until the 6 minute mark of the 4th. His only moment of note was a three-point play that cut the Pelicans' lead to three with just over a minute left. That was until Tyreke's dagger of a spinning floater put NOLA up by 5 and a Casspi turnover sealed the Kings' fate.
Some other interesting tidbits of note from tonight's game:
- Monty went with an interesting lineup at the end of the 1st quarter: Rivers-Salmons (playing SG and guarding Nik Stauskas)-Babbitt-Anderson-Davis. (Ajinca replaced Davis to start the 2nd) I assume it's because he wanted length on the perimeter to give the Kings' wings fits, but after his brief stint John Salmons did not return to the game. Luke Babbitt did however, earning 20 minutes of play and tacking on 5 points and 3 boards for good measure (his driving floater in the 2nd half was particularly impressive).
- Despite posting the 3rd-worst PER at his position to this point (behind Jason Maxiell and JaKarr Sampson, who plays for the Sixers fyi) and yet starting every game, Jason Thompson put up 15 points and 9 rebounds against the Pels tonight. Both he and Cousins gave the Pelicans' three bigs trouble with their size and strength, pushing them around for stretches. The only reason Carl Landry isn't starting for them is I assume Mike Malone likes Landry's scoring for their 2nd unit, but tonight, Thompson was productive with his run. Not sure he's the long-term answer for the Kings at power forward though. Not if the playoffs are a legitimate goal.
- The Kings went super small with their lineup early in the 4th quarter (McCallum-Stauskas-Casspi-Gay-Landry) and the weird thing is that even though the bulk of the Kings gave New Orleans fits overall, I liked that small lineup. The wings were big/long enough to give us fits and yet Landry was still effective against the length of Anderson and Ajinca. Regardless, I thought Malone should have brought Cousins back sooner, but he rode Casspi all the way to the finish (and 27+ minutes for the game).
- Man, do I wish we had Casspi on this roster. There were other free agent small forward targets I had my eyes on this offseason (most notably James Johnson, who was sneaky good for the Grizzlies last season and has continued his good play with the Raptors), before Demps signed Salmons, but I'm still scratching my head why we let this guy go. Even if Babbitt was getting the majority of the SF-PF play off the bench (when Tyreke hits the bench or he wants a stretch-four that's not Anderson), he provides actual depth for a roster and has played well enough with Sacramento to warrant finishing games over Landry and Thompson. Guess you can't win em all, even if you're "Dealin'" Dell Demps.
- I alluded to this point in my last recap, and I'm going to do it with even more conviction now: Eric Gordon is going to be the X-Factor for this team this season. When he has a productive offensive game (and makes the defense respect him when/if he's making jump shots), he gives this team a completely new dimension. He even had a couple nice feeds to AD for easy finishes and he has remained aggressive (to his credit) offensively in games, even when he isn't getting shots to fall early in the game. His big three-pointer late in the 4th quarter felt like a turning-point moment for him. His 17 points came up big for us, and in games where Anderson isn't red hot or one of the Davis/Evans duo is in foul trouble, it'd be nice to be able to rely on EG to get some big buckets through spurts of a game. Everyone should be really happy for Gordon tonight and hopefully he can carry it forward to the game in Denver on Friday (which I will be at in person!).
Anthony Davis became the first player to score at least 25 points on the Kings this season, and it took him 41+ minutes to get it done. But the important thing to take away from tonight, is that the team did get it done, and rebounded nicely from what could have been a tough hangover loss to Portland on Monday. Going 1-1 on a back-to-back sans Omer Asik is a record I'm sure Monty and the guys will take more times than not.
The Pelicans meanwhile improved to 6-4 with the win tonight, and in the toughest division in basketball (Memphis is 10-1, Houston is 8-2, Dallas and the league's best offense are 7-3, and the defending champion Spurs are a measly 6-4, which means we're tied for last) they have to stay above .500 before they return home on Tuesday. Life in the Western Conference is a tough one isn't it?
Next up on the slate will be the the 3-7 Denver Nuggets, fresh off a big win in Cleveland on Monday night, and who will try to keep the momentum going forward with a home game against Oklahoma City on Wednesday. I know I'll be watching to see if Anthony Davis can keep his PER in that 37-ish stratosphere that only he can fly within.