With power forwards Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson out injured, New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams was concerned about how his team would stack up against the Utah Jazz’s big men.
Throw in small forward Gordon Hayward, who has been playing well of late, and the Pelicans had a task.
Hayward scored 32 points, the Jazz pounded the offensive boards, and Utah turned the game around with a big third quarter in beating the Pelicans 100-96 on Monday at Smoothie King Center.
“We had a chance to win, and I thought our third-quarter effort was about as poor as it has been all year,” Williams said. “Execution and defensively, we were bad. They had 21 offensive rebounds, and those were the keys to the game.”
Utah’s big men also combined to score 40 points, and the Pelicans (27-25) lost their third consecutive home game for the first time since Jan. 15-21 last season despite a season-high-tying 17 blocks.
Utah (19-33) won its second consecutive game and prevented New Orleans from sweeping the series for the first time since the 2002-03 season, when the franchise was in the Eastern Conference and the teams played just two games.
The loss enabled Oklahoma City to tie New Orleans for ninth place in the Western Conference playoff race.
Eric Gordon scored 31 points to lead the Pelicans, making a career-high-tying seven 3-pointers. The Pelicans, though, turned the ball over 15 times – with guards Gordon and Tyreke Evans combining for 11 – and that led to 24 Jazz points.
That was no more prevalent than in the third quarter, when Utah forced seven Pelicans turnovers and scored 10 points off them in outscoring the Pelicans 29-15 and turning the game in its favor.
The Pelicans appeared to be sailing to victory, taking a 64-50 lead, the largest of the game, by 7:17 of the third. However, the Jazz got up in the passing lanes and caused four Pelicans turnovers. That and three offensive rebounds fueled a 12-0 run that sliced the deficit to two points.
“They were pressuring a little bit, but we have to be smart passing the ball,” said Evans, who had 18 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. “It’s no way we should have lost the game, so it’s not on the coaches, it’s on us.”
New Orleans led 67-65, then Gordon stole the ball and passed down court to Quincy Pondexter for a layup with 52.6 seconds left. However, Gordon was ruled to have stepped out of bounds on the steal. Replays showed he didn’t, although it was close.
Hayward followed with 3s with 34 seconds and 1.3 seconds left, and the Jazz were hitting a high note with a 21-3 quarter-ending run.
The Pelicans were in control with a 52-42 halftime lead, having held Utah without a basket from the 6:05 of the second quarter until 16.7 seconds were left.
Gordon and Evans scored 16 points each in the first half and committed three turnovers between them. Gordon shot 4-of-5 on 3s, as the Pelicans made a season-high nine in 15 attempts.
In the second half, Gordon said, the Jazz were aggressive in denying the pick and roll, and their active big men were key.
Said Jazz coach Quin Snyder: “We were a little soft in the first half, just snot as urgent. Sometimes I think it takes us getting punched a few times before we figure it out.”
New Orleans fell a nine-point hole – 78-69 – but trailed 84-81 with 5:44 left in the game. Gordon sank back-to-back 3s around an offensive foul by Hayward, and the Pelicans took an 87-86 lead with 4:19 showing.
The Jazz then went on a 6-0 run, denying Evans on a drive and forcing a turnover by Gordon.
The Pelicans got one last shot, coming to 92-91 with 1:48 left. However, Hayward hit a leaner in the lane, then a 3-pointer after being part of a double team that got Gordon to turn the ball over again.
Jazz starting guard Elijah Millsap was the 2007 Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year while at UL-Lafayette. However, he then transferred to Alabama-Birmingham to be closer to home.