HOUSTON — With starting guard Tyreke Evans out with a knee injury, the New Orleans Pelicans needed someone to step up Thursday night against the Rockets.
Anthony Davis did just that on the offensive end, while Jrue Holiday and Austin Rivers slowed down NBA leading scorer James Harden in a 99-90 win at Toyota Center.
After watching a 10-point second-half lead turn into a three-point deficit in the fourth quarter, New Orleans went on a 15-5 run to start the final quarter and take control.
Dante Cunningham and Ryan Anderson bookended big 3-pointers during the stretch and Davis finished with a game-high 30 points.
“It felt like practice,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “That is how our practices are. It felt like a fight. Our guys were good when they needed to be. Guys got the lead back and just made play after play after play. It is a great win for us.”
Anderson and Holiday scored 16 points apiece for the Pelicans (13-12), while Cunningham finished with 15 points and Rivers 10.
Holiday and Rivers, who started in place of Evans, held Harden to 8-of-23 shooting, one night after he scored 41 points against the Nuggets.
“We knew what he did last night,” Holiday said. “It just took a team effort to stop him.
“When he gets into the paint, you just have to put your hands up and make him shoot over guys like AD and Omer.”
Offensively, Davis was on fire from the start.
He scored the Pelicans first eight points and finished 10-of-17 shooting and added a game-high 14 rebounds.
Despite the offensive output, Davis was more proud of the defensive effort.
“When you hold a team like that to 90 points, you are doing a great job,” Davis said. “We can score with the best of them, but we can be a defensive team and when we defend like that, we are tough to beat.”
Omer Asik, in his return to Houston where he had his best year in 2012-13, had 11 rebounds, but only two points going against Rockets center Dwight Howard.
The Rockets (19-6) were led by Harden’s 21 points, but the Houston guard was never able to get in a rhythm against the Hornets defense.
Howard added 17 points and 13 rebounds for the Rockets.
“We didn’t play very well tonight,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “I thought our guys got a little skittish out there with Davis around. They were looking for him as opposed to just going in and finishing.
“We made a lot of mistakes defensively tonight that allowed them to have a 34 point fourth quarter.”
Overall, New Orleans held the Rockets to 38 percent shooting. Trevor Ariza was the only other Rocket in double figures with 10 points.
“We just didn’t have it tonight,” Harden said. “Tough game. We’re a no excuse team, but we just didn’t have it. It’s one of those days.”
The Pelicans led 58-49 midway through the third quarter, but Houston closed out the quarter on a 19-7 run to take a 3-point lead.
That’s when the Pelicans responded.
A Cunningham 3, Davis alley-oop, and four points by Rivers were followed by another big Anderson 3 to put the Pelicans up 77-73, a lead they would not relinquish.
“We got stops and we ran,” Anderson said. “That’s what this team does when we are at our best. We made big plays to counter their runs.
“We tried to make it hard for Dwight and James. I think we did a good job of running with it the other way.”
The key defensively was not allowing Harden to get to the free-throw line and forcing him to take bad shots.
“We were trying to dictate the tempo and play at our level and our pace,” Cunningham said. “Once we enforce our will, it is hard to stop it.
“You can’t really control the shots falling every night, but you can control your energy - hitting the floor for loose balls go a long way.”
Davis was a big part of that, playing more than 40 minutes and blocking five shots.
“AD was knocking down jumper after jumper,” Williams said. “He got open a few times and his jumper was flowing and that opened it up for other things.”