Pelicans bounce back with road win over the Thunder

Jim Eichenhofer
Pelican point guard Jrue Holiday. Photo by

Faced with the unenviable task of defending Russell Westbrook one-on-one in crunch time, Jrue Holiday knocked the ball away from the Oklahoma City All-Star guard, dove on the floor for the loose ball, then fed Anthony Davis for a breakaway dunk. It was Holiday’s career-high-tying 15th assist and Davis’ 38th point of Sunday’s game. In a Western Conference game filled with lead changes, intensity and similarly gritty play, it also fittingly was the final score for either team, even though there was still 2:58 left.

Davis’ flying slam to give New Orleans (14-13) a 101-99 lead stood up as the game-winning hoop for the Pelicans, after they came up with a slew of defensive stops to preserve a notable early-season road win. Oklahoma City (13-15) had one final shot to go ahead in the final seconds, but a Westbrook 3-point attempt from straightaway bounced off the rim. New Orleans grabbed the rebound just before the fourth-quarter buzzer sounded.

Although only one-third of the regular season is in the books, the Pelicans maintained their hold on eighth place in the West standings. They also went up 2-0 in the season series against the Thunder; the Pelicans beat OKC 112-104 in Kevin Durant’s season debut Dec. 2. This time, Durant (right ankle sprain) did not play, leaving Davis to turn in the MVP-level performance, featuring 38 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks.

New Orleans bounced back in resounding fashion from Saturday’s 26-point home loss to Portland, the first time all season the Pelicans have been soundly beaten in the Smoothie King Center.

“It’s a big win, especially coming off the loss we had yesterday,” Holiday said. “Coming in here on the road, obviously a tough place to play, crowd crazy, really loud. We communicated well down the stretch and made big plays. In the fourth quarter, we got stops and made plays toward the end.”

“It’s a great win,” said Pelicans reserve center Alexis Ajinca, who supplied 10 key points. “Losing by 30 points and coming back the next day, and playing as well as we played, is very tough to do.”

“That’s what the NBA is about,” Pelicans guard Austin Rivers said. “That’s what good teams do. They’re able to flush the bad and move on quickly.”

Davis personified that turnaround, scoring his second-most points of 2014-15. He finished five points shy of his NBA high of 43 points, set Nov. 22 at Utah. On Saturday, Davis netted only seven points and six rebounds, the first time all season he’d been held to single-digit scoring when not impacted by injury.

“It’s on me,” Davis said of his responsibility to set the tone for the Pelicans, as the team’s most critical player. “It starts with me. My energy.”

Davis made it a long night from the get-go for Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka, the NBA’s No. 2 shot-blocker behind Davis. Ibaka finished with only six points and eight rebounds. Foul trouble hurt Ibaka, who picked up four, mostly while trying to contend with Davis. The 21-year-old phenom scored 21 points in the first half to stake New Orleans to a 53-48 halftime lead. After Oklahoma City regained the upper hand on the scoreboard temporarily behind a 33-23 third quarter, Davis tallied 11 of his team’s 25 fourth-quarter points, capped by his fast-break dunk off Holiday’s defensive gem. For a third time since Tuesday, the Pelicans won a game after trailing through three quarters.

“It was great hustle,” Davis said of the game-deciding steal. “It just shows how good of a defender Jrue is on-ball. He can take the challenge, knowing that Russ is very aggressive. He came up with a great steal. I tried to run the floor to help him. I saw that he had the ball; he got it to me and I tried to just finish.”