There was order in the house on Friday night at the Smoothie King Center.
At least for a night, the New Orleans Pelicans shook off their inconsistent ways, turning back the Southwest Division-leading Memphis Grizzlies in wire-to-wire fashion 106-95.
The victory was the fifth against a division opponent, surpassing the win total from last season for the Pelicans (18-18). It came after two frustrating losses in which they were knocked off their game by the Washington Wizards and blew a 13-point third-quarter lead on the road in Charlotte.
“Our ball movement was great,” coach Monty Williams said. “We had 21 assists. When we move the ball, play hard and defend, we can compete with anybody.”
A lineup change set the tone. Forward Dante Cunningham was inserted as a starter against the physical Grizzlies. However, New Orleans had contributions across the board, with point guard Jrue Holiday getting a game-high 23 points and leading four Pelicans with at least 20 points.
“I brought those guys together — Jrue, Eric (Gordon) and Tyrke (Evans),” Williams said. “And I talked about that group. They just didn’t have the synergy, and they agreed.
“To his credit, Tyreke sacrificed. He said ‘I’ll come off the bench’ because he wants to help the team. We think Dante can give us an edge at (small
Evans had 21 points and 10 rebounds, Anthony Davis had 20 points, nine rebounds and three blocks, and Ryan Anderson scored 20 points off the bench.
Anderson’s 4-of-8 3-point shooting helped key a 10-of-20 performance by New Orleans behind the arc. The Pelicans also made as many free throws as the Grizzlies attempted — 22 — and won the rebounding battle, if slightly, 47-44.
The key, Williams said, however, “was holding them to 39 points in the first half.”
The loss was the second consecutive by Memphis (25-11), who welcomed back power forward Zach Randolph, who had missed nine games with a knee injury.
In the first meeting in Memphis in November won by the Grizzlies, New Orleans shot just 33.7 percent, including 17.6 on 3-point attempts.
“They made shots,” Randolph said. “That was the difference this time.”
In control since starting the game with a 9-0 run, the Pelicans entered the fourth quarter with an 11-point lead and fought back attempts by Grizzlies to overcome it.
Anderson made two plays that restored the margin to 11 — a tip-in 3 minutes, 15 seconds into the quarter that made the score 88-77 and a reverse layup at 6:39 that made it 91-79.
Evans finished off the victory, assisting Holiday for a 3-pointer and driving for a basket and a three-point play in the final 2:14.
“Ryan made some big shots, and we were looking for him,” Evans said. “And I like having the ball in my hands at the end, so tonight was no different.”
After taking control in the first quarter, New Orleans weathered a Grizzlies comeback in the second in taking a commanding 52-39 lead.
Trailing by 12 at the end of the first quarter, Memphis drew to 33-32. Point guard Mike Conley sank a 3-pointer that launched a 13-2 run.
Anderson then hit the first two big 3-pointers, giving the Pelicans a 36-32 lead at 6:24. He made another big 3 at the 3:59 mark that gave New Orleans a 45-35 cushion.
New Orleans outscored Memphis 12-4 in the last 4:26.
In the third quarter, three-point plays by backup center Kosta Koufos and point guard Mike Conley brought the Grizzlies to 64-57.
Less than a minute and half later, however, Anderson stemmed the tide with a 3-pointer for the third time in the game. Gordon followed with one on the next possession, and the Pelicans led 70-59. Gordon, who scored 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting, hit another 3 with a minute remaining in the quarter for an 80-67 bulge.
Cunningham had seven rebounds — four offensive — and blocked three shots.
Rookie point guard Russ Smith was assigned to the NBA Development League’s Fort Wayne Mad Ants for the third time this season. The Pelicans continue to send Smith to the Mad Ants to get playing time he won’t get with the team, yet he returns for player development and overall practices in New Orleans. In six games with Fort Wayne, he has averaged 16.5 points, 6.2 assists and 1.8 steals.