“We’re not going into this game just to be competitive. We’re going into this to win just like we do every one of them.” — Monty Williams before Friday’s game
Yeah, you right.
Or, as Tyreke Evans might say, “With no problem.”
Without their Special Man, the Pelicans didn’t figure to have much of a chance against a hot Los Angeles Clippers team that beat them by 20 back in December when the team was closer to full strength than it was Friday, when both Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday were out.
But sometimes even the basketball bounces funny.
When Jimmer Fredette draws a three-shot foul with 2.1 seconds left in the third quarter and makes them all to give you a 12-point lead heading into the fourth — and then follows it with a runner to start to scoring in the final period — you know it’s your night.
“This is who we are,” Williams said. “We never just show up. I’m sure not many people in this region thought we had a chance tonight, but we never approach a game that way. Everybody puts their shoes and shorts on like we do. So why not us?”
Why not, indeed?
Especially when you have a team that plays its best when everything is against it — and its worst when the vice is versa.
Perhaps Friday’s 108-103 victory in front of a vocal — and perhaps disbelieving —Smoothie King Center crowd did no more than make up for Wednesday’s homecourt loss to a Denver team that had lost seven straight.
The Clippers had won six straight — the longest winning streak in the Western Conference.
But Friday’s victory may have shown that, as January turns to February and staying healthy becomes more difficult, players who might just as likely spend the night on the bench will be counted on for major roles.
Like Alex Ajinca.
The backup center had a “Did Not Play — Coaches Decision” in the Denver game.
On Friday, the big Frenchman scored 17 points, second this season only to the 22 he had Jan. 18 at Toronto, when the Pels posted another improbable victory with Davis out.
“My mindset was just to give everything I had for the team,” said Ajinca, who also had nine rebounds. “We knew this wasn’t going to be an easy game. Everybody was going at it. We did a little bit better.”
The Pels bench, outscored 31-15 by Denver on Wednesday, outdid the Clippers 32-30 on Friday despite 15 points by reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford.
Not that the starters didn’t do their part.
In the Denver game, Eric Gordon missed his first nine shots and finished 3-of-15, contributing mightily to the Pels’ falling behind and never quite getting over the hump to catch up.
On Friday, he was 10-of-20 and finished with a season-high 28 points.
“I hit a couple of 3s early in the game, and then I was able to attack,” said Gordon, whose 15-foot pull-up jumper with 57 seconds left gave the Pels a six-point cushion. “When I can keep mixing up like that, it’s going to be hard for a team to predict what I’m trying to do next.”
Tyreke Evans, starting at point guard in place of Holiday, had only two assists in the Denver game.
On Friday, he had 12, giving him an even dozen in three of his past four outings.
“Everybody was on tonight,” Evans said. “When we get in a rhythm, it’s hard to stop us.”
The victory was the Pelicans’ fifth in their past six games.
But now comes a test from an unexpected source.
Atlanta was only 7-6 when the Hawks beat the Pels 101-98 back on Nov. 28. Now, they’re 39-8 following Friday’s home victory against Portland, meaning they’ll be coming to New Orleans on Monday on an 18-game winning streak.
Davis could be back. (He wanted to play Friday but was overruled by Williams.) But even if he’s not, Evans said he team will be stoked for the challenge.
“We get up for games like that,” he said. “For some reason, we play our best against the good teams. They’re coming in hot. We’ve just got to be ready.”