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Pelicans finish with a massive run to leave Brooklyn victorious, 104-95

It wasn’t pretty without Anthony Davis, but a win is a win in the race for the eighth seed.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Three minutes of good basketball was all it took for the New Orleans Pelicans to put away the Brooklyn Nets 104-95 tonight. After 45 minutes of uneven play (that’s being rather generous), the Pels were trailing the plucky Nets. There had been opportunities, especially in the third quarter, to make a statement and instead New Orleans quite literally threw them away. Yet, when it mattered most they buckled down and pulled out a victory without Anthony Davis.

The steadying hand came from an unlikely place. Rookie Buddy Hield, off behind the arc all night, caught a pass with another chance at an open three. Instead he pump faked, got the (limited) defense out of position, and finished a nice drive over the outstretched hands of former Pelican Sean Kilpatrick. After a Terrence Jones prayer was answered on the left block, New Orleans had the lead. Solomon Hill tried to do far too much after a Nets turnover and the ball landed in Buddy’s hands. Rather than attempt a low percentage shot, he backed the ball out and Alvin Gentry got the Pelicans into the under three minute timeout to get things settled for crunch time.

It worked! Tyreke Evans finished a difficult layup in traffic and then set the table for a Terrence Jones dunk and accompanying work of art.

That happened. The Pelicans finished the game on a 13-1 run to get a win they certainly needed to keep pace with the Portland Trail Blazers (whooped the Cleveland Cavaliers last night), Sacramento Kings, and Denver Nuggets (dropped 140 on the Indiana Pacers in London this afternoon). It wasn’t pretty, but without Anthony Davis any win, against any NBA team, is going to be a struggle.

I’d hoped that Buddy Hield would put on a fireworks show tonight. Instead he was ice cold (2-9 from the field for just five points) and the burden fell on Tyreke Evans and Terrence Jones. Both proved up to the task. Jones, getting the start for Davis, poured in 24 points and 12 rebounds. It was his second massive stat line for in place of injured Davis. Thankfully this one came in a win rather than the blowout loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Then there’s Tyreke Evans. Evans had easily his best game since returning from the myriad of knee surgeries with 29 points on 10-15 from the field (including 2-4 from deep) and 7-7 from the foul line. Against the Nets Evans had no problem getting anywhere he wanted to and was able to finish through and around contact at a rate much more similar to the version we saw in 2015 before three knee surgeries put him on the shelf.

The only other Pelicans to reach double figures were Jrue Holiday and Solomon Hill. Holiday put up 21 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists tonight while bombing away behind the arc to the tune of 4-6 shooting. Hill posted his first double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 much needed rebounds. Both did the lion’s share of their work in the first half while Jones and Evans took the reigns in the second.

Omer Asik got the start and was rather ineffective. Alexis Ajinca checked in after Asik gathered a couple fouls and was somehow worse. Neither played in the second half as Alvin Gentry decided to start Donatas Motiejunas out of the locker room. He didn’t play well either.

New Orleans did tighten up on the defensive glass in the second half despite not playing either traditional center, allowing just one offensive rebound after permitting six in the first. They also took much better care of the ball; after giving it away ten times in the first half, they limited themselves to just six in the second including only one in the final frame. Brooklyn, on their way to giving the game away, committed seven turnovers in the fourth quarter alone.

Alvin Gentry, while pleased with the win, will not be terribly pleased with the execution. The defense again carried the day, posting an impressive 85.7 DRtg (despite looking dreadful in the first half) while the offense had just 16 assists on 38 made field goals. Antonio Daniels was livid during the halftime show about the amount of isolation basketball the Pelicans played in the second quarter.

The Pelicans travel to Chicago to face the Bulls on Saturday. Anthony Davis, who was ruled out after being a game-time decision, will hopefully be recovered enough from the hip injury to play. Davis missed playing in his hometown in both his rookie and sophomore seasons due to injury.