The injury was a bit of a mystery.
Anthony Davis’ teammates found out not long before tipoff that the New Orleans Pelicans star would miss Saturday night’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Guard Eric Gordon had “no clue,” he said, how Davis had been injured. Jrue Holiday didn’t even know the extent of the injury — a sprained big toe — until reporters told him after the game.
But the impact of Davis’ absence was clear as the Timberwolves rallied from a 14-point second-half deficit to win 112-110 at the Smoothie King Center.
Without Davis to help protect the rim, the Timberwolves scored 50 points in the paint. And without Davis to assist in guarding him, rookie Karl-Anthony Towns — who had averaged 19.5 points in two losses to the Pelicans this season — scored 30 on 13-of-20 shooting.
“With something like that, you always want to play against the best,” Towns said. “Obviously I was disappointed; (he’s) one of the best players in the league, and I wanted to go against and absolutely battle and compete against (Davis).”
Towns said the Wolves “found out just before the game” about Davis, and they had that in common with the Pelicans.
When he met with reporters 90 minutes before tipoff, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said he had no injury updates. Gordon was returning to the lineup after a 16-game absence with a fractured right ring finger, and that was the extent of the news.
Less than an hour before tip, the Pelicans announced that Davis wouldn’t play. In the third quarter, they updated his status with a diagnosis of a sprained big toe, though the team did not provide a timetable for his return.
“I don’t think it’s going to be one of those deals where he’s going to be 100 percent, but I do think that more than likely we’ll rest him, and I’m assuming that he’ll be able to play in the next couple of days,” Gentry said after the game. “It’s one of those deals where I’m not quite too sure the extent of how it will affect him, but we expect for him to come back and play.”
The Pelicans have a scheduled day off Sunday and don’t play again until Wednesday, when they face the Rockets in Houston.
“That doesn’t feel good,” Holiday said of the big toe sprain. “I’ve had one of those. Obviously you use your feet a lot and you use that big toe a lot, so I understand that.”
With Davis sidelined, the Timberwolves attacked early with their frontcourt, and Towns and Gorgui Dieng each scored seven points in the first quarter. Still, New Orleans led by a point after one, stretched the lead to 56-45 by halftime and surged ahead 74-60 on a Ryan Anderson basket with 3:35 to play in the third.
Anderson and Gordon had 31 points apiece, but offense wasn’t the issue for the Pelicans. Minnesota hit 14 of 23 shots (60.9 percent) in the fourth quarter, outscoring New Orleans 36-24. Zach LaVine scored 11 of his 25 points in the fourth and Andrew Wiggins eight of his 20.
Gordon put the Pelicans in front 108-106 on a pair of free throws with 1:37 to play and tied the score at 110 on two more with 12.2 seconds to play.
But Wiggins drove to the rim on the Timberwolves’ final possession, and Gordon was whistled for a blocking foul as Wiggins missed on a dunk attempt.
“I thought it was a charge,” Gordon said. “I tried to make sure my feet were out of the restricted circle. It’s tough.”
Officials reviewed the play, and it stood. Wiggins made both free throws for a 112-110 lead, and the Pelicans — with no timeouts remaining to advance the ball to midcourt — turned the ball over on the ensuing inbound.
“They had a few loose balls, a couple plays that I think they just completely imposed their will on,” Anderson said. “It’s a tough one to lose. We were up almost the whole game, and we fought that whole game and it goes down to free throws on a call that could’ve probably gone either way.”
And it could have gone differently with Davis, who had averaged 31 points in two wins against the Wolves.
But even with their star player sitting as Gordon returned, Holiday said, even with the late notice of Davis’ absence, it’s hard for the Pelicans to blame injuries for their struggles, given how accustomed they’ve grown to bad breaks.
New Orleans, which fell to 1-6 without Davis this season, again was without four projected starters Saturday. The Pelicans have missed 187 man games to injury or illness.
“Ever since I’ve been here — and I’m pretty sure even before that — there’s been some weird stuff going on,” Holiday said. “I’m pretty sure we’re used to it.”