Given the sort of season it’s been for the Pelicans, you’re to be forgiven for thinking the worst.
His team on the verge of a huge win against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday, New Orleans star Anthony Davis soared to swat a Russell Westbrook shot, then crashed to the ground and grabbed his left knee.
But score one for the Pelicans optimists.
Davis remained in the game, and his two free throws with 40.1 seconds to play helped New Orleans ice one of its biggest wins of the season 123-119 at the Smoothie King Center.
“I just landed funny,” Davis said after the game. “I tried to, like, watch out for Russell at the same time. It was just all bad. But I wasn’t coming out, I tell you that. It feels good now.”
Everything felt pretty good for the Pelicans on Thursday.
New Orleans didn’t look much like a team that moved to 11-24 this season against teams with winning records. It got 30 points from Davis to pace six players in double figures, four with 20 or more.
The Pelicans had 29 assists and got 26 points from Ryan Anderson, 22 from Jrue Holiday and 21 from Norris Cole. They got a huge fourth-quarter lift from Toney Douglas, who scored 10 of his 12 in the period.
And they held on despite 44 points from Russell Westbrook and 32 from Kevin Durant, holding the rest of the Thunder in check.
“I thought we did a really good job of following the game plan,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “I told the guys (before the game) I remember a game where they had 76 points and lost, Westbrook and Durant. I just kind of made that up. They’re two great players, but we felt like if we could try to do a decent job on them and then keep the other guys out of the game, we’d still have an opportunity to win.”
It was New Orleans’ third win in four games since the All-Star break, and a rare victory against one of the NBA’s elite. The Thunder (41-17) are third in the Western Conference and had beaten the Pelicans twice this season.
“It’s good for us,” Davis said. “It gives us a lot of confidence. We want to keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing post-All-Star going.”
They did that on Thursday despite playing short-handed again.
Bryce Dejean-Jones — the latest victim of the Pelicans’ injury bug — missed Thursday’s game with a fractured right wrist and is expected to be out as long as six-to-eight weeks. New Orleans played the Thunder without five players — Dejean-Jones, Omer Asis, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and Quincy Pondexter — bringing their season total to 172 player games missed to injury or illness.
Douglas gave the Pelicans a boost in the fourth quarter, making key plays as New Orleans built a lead. He put the Pelicans in front 105-95 on a layup with 7:45 to play. He rebounded an Anderson miss, dribbled out and drove for a score to put the Pelicans up 109-100 at the 5:48 mark.
Westbrook drove to the basket with 3:28 to play and Davis came to help for an emphatic blocked shot. The Pelicans turned the swat off the glass into a transition opportunity for Anderson, whose 3-pointer at the 3:20 mark put New Orleans in front 117-105.
Davis grabbed his left knee after the play and didn’t run the floor. He remained in the game without an obvious limp, though he did frequently hold on to the knee after the play.
As Davis labored, the Thunder worked back into the game. A 3-pointer from Westbrook with 1:44 to play in the game and a basket from Durant at the 1:14 mark trimmed the Pelicans’ lead to 119-116.
Two Davis free throws stretched the lead to five, but Durant’s 3-pointer pulled Oklahoma City back within two. A pair of Holiday free throws set the final score at 123-119. Westbrook’s 3-pointer at the other end missed.
“It’s not a surprise with this group,” Anderson said. “We’ve done it before, and when we consistently move the ball like that, when we have a ton of energy and have a lot of tempo, that’s what coach has been stressing all year. That’s his offense. When we do, we’re really hard to guard. It’s fun.”