CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte Hornets dared someone other than DeMarcus Cousins or Anthony Davis to beat them Wednesday night.
So Jrue Holiday and five other New Orleans Pelicans stepped up with big plays in a grind-it-out 101-96 victory. And in the closing minute of the game, Cousins and Davis made their presence known.
“Dwight (Howard) didn’t want to leave my body tonight,” Cousins, who scored 16 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, said afterward. “That left some other people open, and we took advantage.”
The result was New Orleans’ sixth victory in seven games. The Pelicans (26-21) are just a game behind fifth-place Oklahoma City in the NBA West playoff race.
Two nights after Cousins’ remarkable 44-point, 20-rebound, 10-assist performance, the Pelicans won this game with balanced scoring and solid defense. They held the Hornets to a single point in the decisive final minute of the game, and the New Orleans defense also kept Charlotte’s standout guard, Kemba Walker, in check.
Holiday scored 19 points, and the Pelicans got solid performances from E’Twaun Moore (11 points), Rajon Rondo (nine points, including eight in the first quarter), Dante Cunningham (nine points), Darius Miller (eight) and Jameer Nelson (eight).
The Hornets put extra bodies on Cousins and Davis, and Pelicans’ coach Alvin Gentry said his team adapted.
“I thought we did a good job of reading the situations,” he said. “Then I thought we did a good job of just taking what was available to us.”
“Every time (Davis) touched the ball or every time DeMarcus put it down, you saw that they sent one or two guys at them,” Gentry added. “So we did a good job of picking that up.”
That meant giving the ball to Rondo in the opening period, then allowing Miller and Nelson to score big baskets early in the fourth quarter. But it was Holiday who made the difference late in the game. He scored seven of the Pelicans’ final nine points.
Holiday hit two free throws with 30 seconds left, building New Orleans’ lead to 98-95. That final minute also included two free throws, two key rebounds, and a blocked shot by Davis, and a block and rebound in the closing minute by Cousins.
Davis said the victory — not the aesthetics of the game — was the most important thing.
“It’s a basketball game,” he said. “We are on the road, they are at home, and we knew they were going to start to come back. They made plays, but we just grinded it out — we kept play. We kept playing defense.”
The Pelicans built an 11-point lead late in the first quarter, but Charlotte battled back and trailed only 56-53 at the half. After that, the game was close for the rest of the way.
The Pelicans opened a 96-92 lead on a Holiday layup with 1:43 left, but Charlotte’s Nick Batum hit a 3-pointer with a minute remaining, cutting the deficit to 96-95.
The Hornets (18-27) had a chance to take the lead when Dwight Howard rebounded a Cousins miss with 41 seconds to play. Cousins made up for that on the other end, blocking a layup attempt by Charlotte’s Kemba Walker.
Then came Holiday’s two big free throws, and a key rebound by Davis after Walker missed a free throw with 23.7 seconds remaining. Davis made two free throws with 22 seconds to play, and he rebounded a Batum miss with seven seconds to play, clinching the victory.
The Pelicans return home Friday night for a 7 p.m. game at Smoothie King Center against the Houston Rockets.