WASHINGTON — With a minute and 31 seconds left and Pelicans in the midst of a mini-rally to cut the Wizards’ lead to six, New Orleans had its most dominant player to turn to as a reinforcement.
Anthony Davis checked in and in a flash a six-point deficit transformed into a one-point lead. The MVP hopeful scored seven in a row on his own to swing another winnable game temporarily in the Pelicans’ favor. And then things went awry. Paul Pierce answered with five straight, New Orleans’ offense went stagnant and the Pelicans fell short in an 83-80 loss to Washington on Saturday at the Verizon Center.
“We’re definitely frustrated,” said Davis, who scored 30 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. “We’ve given away a couple games we could’ve won, but we’ve got to find a way to get up out of it. We’re playing our hearts out.”
On the second night of a back-to-back, the absence of shooting guard Eric Gordon seemed especially huge. Even a 30 and 13 night from Davis wasn’t enough to steady the offense, which shot a putrid 37 percent from the field.
The Wizards weren’t much better offensively, but got a season-high 24 points from center Marcin Gortat, who also grabbed 13 points, to make up for an uncharacteristic 5-for-14 game from John Wall and propel Washington to its seventh straight win against New Orleans.
“It’s fun when you’re scoring and scoring against one of the best defenders in the league,” Gortat said. “It’s a lot of fun. I believe I should do this every day. I definitely needed a game like that.”
Most of the game was a battle between Gortat and Davis. The two skilled big men went toe-to-toe, trading off stretches of dominance with in the post. In the third quarter, Gortat scored six in a row for the Wizards as they tried to stretch their lead. But in the final frame, Davis seized control of the matchup and almost singlehandedly willed his team to a win.
When Davis checked in for the final 5:31 of the game, Gortat was worn down. The center had already played the first six and a half minutes of the fourth quarter and now had to deal with the best big man in the NBA.
On the Pelicans’ first possession, Davis got free for an open dunk to cut Washington’s lead to four. On the next, Davis fought through contact from Wall for an and-one and completed the three-point play at the line. After a third straight stop, Davis got to the rim for another dunk to give the Pelicans their first lead of the game.
“The guys just battled all night long to get back in the game,” head coach Monty Williams said. “We just had timely mistakes that hurt us.”
First, there was a miscommunication on a switch that left Pierce unchecked behind the arc for a 3 that stretched Washington’s lead to 81-77 with 2:13 to play. Then, after Ryan Anderson made 1-of-2 at a trip to the line, a missed box-out let Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal tip in a shot and give Washington a five-point lead with less than a minute to play.
The Pelicans could go back to Davis one more time, and he cut the lead back to three on a bucket with 32 seconds left, but they needed a 3 on the final possession to force overtime, which meant someone other than Davis had to deliver.
Anderson couldn’t get an open look from 3 as the first option and Tyreke Evans was forced to heave up a 27-footer with the clock winding down and a third consecutive loss inevitable.
“They made big shots and we didn’t,” Davis said. “There’s nothing we can really do about that.”