The Pelicans are used to having a thin roster. Occasionally they’ve experienced a depleted roster.
But when New Orleans started Monday with nearly as many players listed on the injury report as those expected to play, the Pelicans’ heath issues reached a point even Alvin Gentry had never experienced in his NBA head coaching career, which spans 22 seasons.
“I’ve never dealt with anything like this,” Gentry said. “You know, you have a guy out or maybe two guys out but I’ve never had a situation where it’s pretty much hit all of your starters at one time or another, and even the bench players. We’ve had some injuries with the bench.
“It’s just a part of it. And after a while, you just have to regroup and do the best that you can.”
The Pelicans made the most of their limited rotations, overcoming a 17-point second-half deficit to notch an unexpected 115-112 victory at the Smoothie King Center on the strength of a dominant second-half performance by Anthony Davis, who finished with 31 points and 10 rebounds, leading the Pelicans to its third win this season over the Kings.
It overwhelmed Demarcus Cousins’ 40-point, 16-rebound performance, as the Pelicans defense limited the Kings’ All-Star to just six points in the final quarter.
It snapped New Orleans’ four-game losing streak and adds a dose of optimism to a once-promising season that has dwindled into irrelevancy. As recently as Feb. 25, the Pelicans were just four games removed from the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoff picture.
Now, those hopes of a turnaround have been washed away in a sea of injuries and underwhelming performances. But it didn’t discourage the Pelicans on Monday night.
“We all know we are better than our record, and we are not going to fold,” Ryan Anderson said. “We know how talented we are and that we can win any night. We are never going to give up, and this isn’t a team that has given up as long as I’ve been here. We have fought our way through in every way.”
Despite trailing 63-50 at halftime, anchored by 15 turnovers, New Orleans battled back. Those mistakes were sliced down significantly, surrendering just two more turnovers the rest of the game.
Davis sparked the momentum by scoring 17 points in the third quarter alone, doing it on an efficient eight shots and trimming the deficit to six points. Then Jrue Holiday tied it in the fourth, cutting through the lane for a game-tying layup with nine minutes remaining, triggering a Kings timeout.
From there, Sacramento opened up a 10-point advantage thanks to a pair of 3-pointers by Marco Belinelli. Yet once again, the Pelicans battled through adversity, slowly chopping into the lead and cutting it 108-106 in the final two minutes.
Then, Norris Cole raced under the basket and leapt in the air, finding a wide-open Dante Cunningham — who had missed an open 3-pointer less than a minute earlier- on the wing — who buried a 3-pointer to give New Orleans its first lead in the second half with 36 seconds remaining.
“I thought the first one was down,” Cunningham said “That one was clean. The second one, right before the play, the (Kings) bench was talking to me. We were just having a little fun back and forth. Literally as soon as it left my hand, I stared right at the bench, and they looked back and smiled and nodded. That was the end of that one.”
After Sacramento’s Darren Collison missed a lob opportunity at the other end, Holiday connected on a quick jumper (a shot Gentry wished he would’ve waited longer to take), scoring from midrange to push the Pelicans up 113-110. Two Cole free throws and a Holiday steal iced things and sent the Smoothie King Center into an improbable frenzy.
Considering the injury circumstances and the double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter, it was a particularly impressive victory.
Five Pelicans were scratched entering Monday, most of whom are out for the season. Then Luke Babbitt and (left shin) and Cole (lower back) were added as questionable entering Monday night.
Cole gained the admiration of several teammates for not only playing through the injury but also scoring 13 first-quarter points on nine shots en route to a 23-point night. And with only three healthy guards on the roster (joining Holiday and Toney Douglas), he was needed to carry a significant load.
“He came out aggressive for us and made big plays and big stops even though he was banged up,” Holiday said. “It’s a testament to him to come out here and fight for the team.”