Anthony Davis didn’t like this version of Anthony Davis.
This guy was tentative when he caught the ball. He was overthinking, trying too hard to make the right play. Davis watched himself on a TV screen and didn’t recognize the player he saw.
So on Friday, the Pelicans star rebooted.
His career-high-tying 43 points weren’t enough to get the Pelicans their first win of the season, but in a 121-115 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, Davis looked like the player he expects to be — and he gave the Pelicans a glimpse of the team they can become.
“I knew I was due for one,” Davis said after a signature game in which he added 10 rebounds, four steals, three blocked shots and three assists. “The past couple days, I was just constantly watching film. Hours after practice just working on my game. Just trying to get back. I’ve been struggling. I just wanted to come out aggressive. I just didn’t want to lose another one, so I was super-aggressive.”
He didn’t get that win, but he at least made the Pelicans (0-5) feel like there’s a light at the end of this losing tunnel.
New Orleans trailed by as many as 17 points, but led by Davis — who scored 33 points in the second half — the Pelicans mounted a major comeback.
A 27-10 run — capped by Ryan Anderson’s putback dunk with 4:24 to play — pulled New Orleans even at 106.
But after Davis tied the score at 108 on a pair of free throws, the Hawks answered with seven straight points – a 3-pointer from Kyle Korver and a layup and two free throws by Jeff Teague — to stretch the lead to 113-108. The Pelicans never got closer than five points the rest of the way.
Korver had 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists for the Hawks. Paul Millsap added 22 points and 12 rebounds.
“Dug ourselves a hole, so once again we made a run and did a good job defensively in the second half but just couldn’t quite get over the hump,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said.
“We’re playing to catch up; we’re not playing to try to create separation.”
Still, Friday’s game showed that New Orleans — even without injured players Tyreke Evans, Quincy Pondexter, Norris Cole and Kendrick Perkins — can compete with good teams “regardless of who we’ve got out there,” Gentry said.
But it certainly helps to have Davis.
The Pelicans made an adjustment offensively, Gentry said, to get Davis more room to operate. He caught more passes on the move rather than posting up in one position and allowing the defense the swarm him.
The result, Davis said, gave him “a lot of the lane to work.” There were fewer defenders around him and more room to operate, and he thrived in pick-and-rolls and with the midrange jump shot that had largely abandoned him to start the season.
In addition to more room to roam, Davis said he played with more purpose. In watching film, he had seen himself hesitant when he caught the ball, looking to make the right play against a swarming defense and struggling to decide when to pass and when to be more assertive.
“I was indecisive about things, because I wanted to make the right play knowing how the defense was playing me — hitting the open guy,” Davis said. “But sometimes you got to put it on the rim and see it go through and get to the free-throw line and everything like that.”
Davis didn’t want to heap too much praise on his own performance — “I made some plays, but obviously it wasn’t enough,” he said — but even in a loss, it gave the Pelicans some hope.
“Somehow, someway throughout the season, we’re gonna hit a major run where we’re gonna be winning a lot of games,” said Eric Gordon, who scored 22 for New Orleans. “It’s just a matter of time.”
“Before I was kind of hesitant,” Davis said. “(On Friday) I said, ‘If I catch it, I’m letting it fly.’ ”