ATLANTA — The run felt inevitable, and it came eventually.
The Atlanta Hawks tightened their defense, made some shots and rallied from a 12-point first-half deficit to beat the short-handed Pelicans 106-98 Wednesday night at Philips Arena.
And though the Pelicans didn’t win a second-straight game, they gave coach Alvin Gentry most everything else he wanted to see.
“I think we played hard and competed like crazy,” Gentry said. “We just weren’t able to make plays to get over the hump.”
Playing without star Anthony Davis — who suffered a right hip contusion in New Orleans’ win Tuesday night against Dallas — and point guard Jrue Holiday, who still is restricted from playing back-to-back games as he recovers from a stress reaction in his right leg, the Pelicans were even more injury depleted than normal.
They played as they have all season without guards Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole and forward Quincy Pondexter, and as they have recently without center Kendrick Perkins.
Still, the Pelicans (1-7) controlled the first half before fading in the second.
New Orleans took a 56-47 halftime lead thanks in part to sizzling shooting from behind the 3-point line. The Pelicans hit 11 of 18 3-pointers in the first half —one shy of the franchise record for 3s in a half, set on Jan. 25, 2008, against the Clippers. They were 8 of 11 from 3-point range in the second quarter, one short of a franchise-record nine triples in a quarter against Portland on Jan. 14, 2005. “They had us definitely on our heels,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
But the Pelicans shot 3 for 11 from 3-point range in the second half as the Hawks outscored them 59-42.
Atlanta, which shot 45.7 percent from the floor and made 3 of 11 3-pointers in the first half, shot 52.5 percent in the second half, connecting on 6 of 13 from long range.
The Hawks’ transition defense took away some of the looks the Pelicans got by pushing the pace in the first half, and New Orleans — which played Ish Smith 38 minutes, Ryan Anderson 35 and Eric Gordon 31 — “ran out of gas a little bit,” Gentry said, playing for the second time in as many nights.
Gordon had 26 points, Smith 18 points and 10 assists and Anderson 17 points for the Pelicans.
“I didn’t think we pushed it as hard in the second half as we did in the first, but (Atlanta) did a good job,” Gentry said. “I think it was a little bit of both. We didn’t push it as hard and I thought they did a little bit better job of getting back in transition.”
Atlanta, which got 26 points from Al Horford and 19 from Paul Millsap, also had the benefit of not guarding Davis, who scored a career-high-tying 43 points when the two teams met last week.
Davis’ presence “creates spacing and it creates opportunities for other guys when he’s out on the floor,” Gentry said. Without him, New Orleans’ halfcourt offense can stagnate.
Gentry said he “wouldn’t even speculate” about Davis’ status for Friday’s game at Toronto. Davis, the Pelicans’ leading scorer, was to be evaluated again Wednesday night and Thursday, Gentry said.
With or without him, the Pelicans are showing they can compete with high-level competition when the effort is there. With so many players sidelined, though, effort alone won’t be enough.
“We did play hard,” Smith said. “That’s the only thing you can ask when you step out on the floor — play hard, give it everything you got and see how it goes. Honestly, we were right there to win the game. Just the shots that we made in the first half didn’t go in the second half.”