Somebody had to stand up to LeBron James. With Anthony Davis out injured, Tyreke Evans was more than up to the task.
So was Ryan Anderson.
Evans picked up the torch from Davis, Anderson closed the Cavaliers out in the fourth quarter, and the Pelicans took an impressive 119-114 victory on Friday night at Smoothie King Center.
“To beat a team like that without Anthony Davis and have so many contributions across the board is a special win for us,” Coach Monty Williams said. “I’m just proud of the grit that we showed.”
Davis left the game at the 5 minute, 30 second mark of the first quarter, holding his chest. He appeared to have collided briefly with Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson, who was bringing the ball up near the left sideline after a Pelicans turnover.
Davis tried to play before motioning to the bench. Davis, whom the team said has a chest contusion, did not return. After the game, a team spokesman said there was no update.
“He came out the game wincing and said he couldn’t breathe,” Williams said. “He wanted to get back in. We will know a lot about what’s going on (Saturday).”
Evans and Anderson took up the slack, more than offsetting 41 points by James. Evans had 31 points and 10 assists. Anderson, who shot 8-of-14 on 3-pointers, had 30, as the bench outscored Cleveland’s 49-18.
Center Omer Asik had a game-high 14 rebounds, and Jrue Holiday complemented Evans with 16 points and eight assists.
“When AD went out, nobody backed down,” Evans said. “It just what type of heart we have. We just wanted to finish the game strong, keep attacking and finish the game plan.”
New Orleans (11-11) led by 19 points in the fourth quarter. However, the Cavaliers, behind 17 fourth-quarter points by point guard Kyrie Irving, kept whittling and closed to 106-99 with 3:45 left.
Cleveland cut the lead to five points with 54.8 seconds left after a 3-pointer by James Jones. Luke Babbitt, though, sank an enormous 3 with 39.1 showing, giving New Orleans a 115-107 lead.
“They doubled Tyreke,” Babbitt said. “When Ryan and I are on the court together and Tyreke is driving, we can get open shots like that.”
The Pelicans, who shot a sizzling 55.7 percent, won their second consecutive game and third in four games. It was their third consecutive home win and pushed their home record to 4-0 against Eastern Conference teams.
Cleveland (13-9), considered perhaps the top team in the East, lost its second consecutive game after an eight-game winning streak. James, who missed Thursday’s game at Oklahoma City with a knee ailment, scored 41 points.
Power forward Kevin Love had 21 points, but was kept off the boards, getting just seven rebounds.
However, a key to the victory was that Irving, who has tormented the Pelicans in the past, was held scoreless for three quarters. He erupted in the fourth, bringing the Cavaliers too close for comfort. Irving injured a knee in a nasty fall against OKC, and Blatt said it took him a while to get going against the Pelicans.
From the beginning, though, the Pelicans did not give an inch. They stood toe-to-toe with the Cavaliers in a wild first half, taking a 64-59 halftime lead with Davis sidelined for
New Orleans shot 55.7 percent and Cleveland 49.4, with both teams scoring 30 points in the lane. There were 23 lead changes and 16 ties in the first-half shootout.
The Pelicans finally put some distance between them and the Cavaliers during the last 43.3 seconds of the half. With the score tied at 59, Evans answered a 3-pointer by Love with one. Then, Marion missed low against the menacing presence of Asik, and he fired an outlet pass to Austin Rivers ahead of the defense on the fast break. Rivers, with James chasing, flushed a two-handed dunk.
When Anderson Varejao missed at the buzzer, the crowd sent the Pelicans into the locker room riding a wave of cheers.
New Orleans kept up the momentum in the third, going on an 8-4 spurt to start the quarter in eventually pushing the lead to 11. The play of the game came at 5:58 when Holiday blocked a shot by Marion in the lane that led to a dunk by Asik and a 78-67 lead.
James did all he could to bring the Cavaliers back, scoring 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting. However, Evans was answering seemingly each salvo and scored 12 in the quarter.
When Anderson sank two 3s in the span of a minute near the 10 minute mark of the fourth, New Orleans had a 97-78 lead.
NOTE: James said he decided to play about an hour and 15 minutes before tip off after going through his normal routine with a Cavaliers trainer. … Four Pelicans players have scored 30 points or more in the past two games – Evans, Anderson, Davis and Holiday. … Anderson’s eight 3s tied his career high – for the fourth time. He also sank eight at Cleveland on Nov. 11. … James and Love scored 30 of Cleveland’s 33 first-quarter points. … The first quarter ended with Evans getting a technical foul for complaining about not getting a call on a half-court shot at the buzzer. Williams was then hit with a tech after coming on the court to protest.