For Ryan Anderson, this was a rare treat.
An atypical spot in the starting lineup — in place of concussed star Anthony Davis — gave Anderson an unusual matchup Thursday night at the Smoothie King Center. And New Orleans took full advantage.
With rookie power forward Willie Cauley-Stein defending him early, Anderson scored 18 of his career-high-tying 36 points in the first quarter, helping boost the Pelicans to a 114-105 win against the Sacramento Kings.
“Tonight they played their regular starting lineup, so I got to play against a big, play against an actual four man, which was really nice,” Anderson said. “Not saying that I in any way could do that every night with a four man guarding me, but obviously it’s harder for big men to move their feet and get around screens.”
So Anderson’s goal was to “be relentless.” And he succeeded.
His offensive outburst — he made 13 of 25 shots, 5 of 11 3-pointers and 5 of 6 free throws — helped buoy a New Orleans team playing without Davis and guard Tyreke Evans, who sat out with tendinitis in his surgically repaired right knee to a win against a team it’s chasing in the Western Conference standings.
Anderson entered the game averaging 17 points per game, the highest average in the NBA among players who have come off the bench at least 20 times. But with Davis sidelined as he works his way through the NBA’s return-to-participation concussion protocol, Anderson got his sixth start of the season.
And his fast start was no accident. Cauley-Stein struggled to prevent Anderson from getting open looks early, and that helped the Pelicans forward settle into a groove.
“A lot of that was by design, because we just felt like he could create space with a young player on him who’s used to guarding kind of inside players,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “We tried to space the floor and give him some spacing, and I thought we did a good job of giving him the ball.”
Anderson had 30 points in the first half. He tied his career high 36 with 10:46 to play in the third quarter, but the Pelicans had enough offensive support to hold off a late Sacramento surge.
The Kings cut a 13-point second half lead to 80-75 on a Rajon Rondo free throw with 3:33 to play in the third. 17-4 before it ended with a Norris Cole layup with 9:36 to play in the fourth that put the Pelicans up 97-79.
Cole, who had 17 points and a career-high 10 assists, hit a bank shot with 8:29 to play put New Orleans ahead 101-82 before the Kings responded with a 16-5 run to cut the lead to 106-98 with 3:02 to play on a Darren Collison layup.
But with 1:37 to play and the Kings’ defense scrambling, Anderson found a wide-open Omer Asik for a dunk that put New Orleans ahead 108-98 and all but iced the game.
“I was just in a passing mood tonight,” Anderson said. “So I found him with my Rajon Rondo-esque vision.”
Jrue Holiday added 25 points and eight assists for New Orleans, which got 14 points from guard Bryce Dejean-Jones, who’s playing on a 10-day contract and made his first career NBA start. DeMarcus Cousins had 26 points and 10 rebounds for Sacramento but shot 11 for 24 and committed six turnovers.
But Anderson was the story of the game. The Sacramento native set a New Orleans franchise record for points in a first half.
“Ryan had some scorchers in the first half, and his effort alone kind of put the game away,” Cousins said. “Most of the game we were fighting back, but we were in too deep of a hole to get out of.”
Anderson’s stay in the starting lineup might be brief. Davis completed the first two steps of the NBA’s concussion protocol on Thursday, Gentry said, and is feeling better. His status for Saturday’s home game against Brooklyn is to be determined.
But for one night, Anderson was right at home in the starting five.
“Obviously he brings something to the table that not many (power forwards) can do,” Holiday said. “Lights-out shooter. If he’s wide open he might make it, but if you got somebody like Cauley-Stein closing out to him and you give him a split second, Ryan’s going to make it. He does so many things that fours can’t do. He’s kind of priceless.” “