Don't look now, but the New Orleans Pelicans are playing like a team with one very specific goal in mind: of proving doubters wrong and making the 2018 playoffs.
Returning from a nine-day All-Star Break layoff, the Pelicans picked up right where they left off as they topped the Miami Heat in an overtime thriller, 124-123. That marks four straight wins for a New Orleans team that many had written off after DeMarcus Cousins was lost for the season with a torn Achilles injury.
The biggest reason for the latest string of wins has been none other than Anthony Davis. The resident superstar hasn’t just thrown his hat into the MVP ring, he’s also tossed in his car, house and dog. Tonight, Davis dropped a cool 45-point, 17-rebound, 5-steal and 5-rebound line. Guess what? That’s never been done before since steals and blocks started to be recorded in the 1973-74 season!
Over the last four games, Davis is averaging 42.3 points, 14.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 4.0 steals, 3.0 blocks and 2.3 threes — even video game cheat codes can’t unlock such exquisite ridiculousness!
“I’d tell you, I thought he’d have a pretty good game and then I’d never know how many points anybody would have, but I looked at the stat sheet when we were walking in and I couldn’t believe he had 45 points,” said Head Coach Alvin Gentry after the game. “That’s not really a good thing because I think now I’m almost taking him for granted. Not going, ‘Wow, he had 45.’ He just finds a way.”
What’s scary is that Gentry then added that he felt Davis didn’t have his usual good rhythm as he had some atypical turnovers and fumbled some passes that he normally handles. And to think that some of AD’s critics recently called him the most overrated player in the NBA...
But before Davis had the opportunity to carry the Pelicans in overtime, several other players stepped up big to give him a chance to be a hero. The first was Ian Clark, who singlehandedly kept New Orleans within striking distance as he poured in 19 first-half points on 8-9 shooting.
That’s right, the Pelicans found themselves in the hole early, and outside of a brief instance in the first quarter, they never led in the game until late in the fourth quarter. This wasn’t because New Orleans failed to bring the requisite energy or execute well enough to win, but rather the Miami Heat are a good team who deserves credit for coming in well-prepared and giving outstanding effort. Yes sir, Erik Spoelstra is a damn fine head coach in this league.
“I thought both teams played extremely hard and [the Miami Heat] are a hard team to play, especially coming out of the break because they probably play as hard as any team in the league,” said Gentry. “They’ve got a big guy (Hassan Whiteside) that does a great job of protecting the basket. Then they have guards, especially Goran (Dragic) who, I think he proved tonight that there’s a reason that he made the All-Star team. I just thought we hung in and hung in. I didn’t think we ever got a rhythm going like I think we’re capable of, but I thought this was probably our best game as far as grinding it out and just hanging in and finding a way to win.”
It’s hard to disagree with Gentry’s take.
In addition to Clark’s contributions, Emeka Okafor did a wonderful job of grinding inside the paint. Mekatron was unable to get going offensively — man did it seem like he was unlucky to miss so many tip-ins, but his defense (5 blocks) and work on the glass (7 rebounds) were as key as his 18 minutes of action against Hassan Whiteside. It spared Davis from having to exert additional effort against one of the premier athletic bangers and created some much needed energy from the crowd. When Okafor gets a block, it seems good things are bound to immediately happen on the other side of the floor.
As well as Clark and Okafor played, Jrue Holiday was even better. New Orleans $126 million dollar man turned in a 29-point, 7-rebound and 9-assist effort, and he was entrusted with running the offense throughout crunch time.
Alvin Gentry directed the Pelicans to run a Holiday-Davis pick and roll multiple times in overtime and it paid off, culminating in this game-winner from Jrue.
Without the use of a timeout, the Miami Heat missed twice in the closing seconds as Dwyane Wade, who scored 16 points on 20 shots off the bench, missed a 22-foot jumper and then Josh Richardson failed to follow up that miss with a putback.
The Pelicans may have eked out a squeaker, but realize that for as well as Davis, Holiday, Clark and Okafor played, a lot of their teammates couldn’t pass muster. Darius Miller missed all five of his shot attempts from the floor, and E’Twaun Moore and Nikola Mirotic were not much better, combining for 19 points in 65 minutes. However, it must be written that Mirotic had a number of timely rebounds and a potentially game-saving block on Wade with 1:51 remaining and the Heat up two points.
While Rajon Rondo had a number of great assists to Davis for easy baskets, he struggled to score, knocking down just two of his eight field goals. Lastly, Cheick Diallo posted his worst game here in February, missing all three of his shot attempts.
Up next, the New Orleans Pelicans travel to Milwaukee to face the Bucks in an early start on Sunday. Expect for another hard fought battle as Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks on Friday to a victory in Toronto against the Eastern Conference-leading Raptors.