Stepping up when a teammate goes down must be becoming old hat for these Pelicans.
This time, All-Star power forward Anthony Davis left in the first quarter of Friday night’s game against the Utah Jazz with what the team said was a left ankle injury. But the Pelicans ground out a 102-95 victory at the Smoothie King Center.
It was New Orleans’ fifth in the row, the first time the franchise has had a streak that long since Jan. 26, 2011.
Davis left the game at 8:17 of the first quarter, and the team announced at the end of the quarter that he would not return. After the game, he was seen walking with crutches.
A source said Davis had complained during warmups about pain. He had participated in practice Thursday and at shoot-around Friday morning. General Manager Dell Demps said the injury was “the result of normal wear and tear.”
“I just know he had pain in his ankle or foot,” coach Monty Williams said. “So I got him out of the game.”
As he met with reporters after the game, Williams said Davis was having testing done at the moment. Two sources close to Davis confirmed that he was to have an MRI.
The win was the ninth in 12 games for the Pelicans (32-40). The Jazz (23-50) lost for the ninth time in 10 games.
“We got a win against a team that’s fighting for a win, but we were just as desperate,” Williams said. “We showed that tonight — different guys stepping up again. Our defense was a lot better in the first and second (quarters), for sure, but we did enough to win the game.”
In Davis’ absence, guard Tyreke Evans, continuing his torrid stretch of play as a starter, had a monster game. He scored 22 points and had a career-high 15 assists in his role as a point guard in injured starter Brian Roberts’ stead.
Guard Anthony Morrow had his second consecutive stellar performance with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting, including 3-of-4 on 3-point attempts. Austin Rivers, returning after missing the previous game due to illness, and Darius Miller, surprise star of Wednesday’s victory against the Los Angeles Clippers, both had 12 points off the bench. And center Alexis Ajinca filled in the rebounding void with a team-high 10 and had a key play late.
Asked whether he and Evans felt the need to take over with Davis out, Morrow said, “We felt a sense of urgency, but it’s been like that all season for us with guys going down with injuries. Everybody stepped up.”
The victory came after the Jazz threatened to spoil it. But the Pelicans would not be denied.
The Jazz had trimmed an eight-point Pelicans lead to 80-79 on an 18-foot jumper by Gordon Hayward with 4:18 left.
But Miller sank a pull-up 16-footer at 3:42. Then after Richard Jefferson missed a desperation 3 try at the shot-clock horn, Morrow, who was guarding Jefferson, raced to the corner and hit a 3-pointer that pushed the lead to 85-79 at 3:03.
“Reke hit me in the corner for that shot,” Morrow said, “but that was a big moment. We hadn’t scored in a while. That’s what’s it been for us, translating defense into offense.”
New Orleans clung to an 87-83 lead when Evans was trapped by two defenders and passed to Ajinca outside the 3-point line. The 7-foot-2 Frenchman drove to the basket for a three-point play, and the Pelicans led 90-83 with 56.7 seconds left.
Miller had sunk a 25-foot 3-pointer at the 7:20 mark that gave New Orleans an 80-72 lead.
The Pelicans went into the fourth quarter with a 72-66 lead by sharing the ball, with Morrow scoring seven points, Evans six and Al-Farouq Aminu and Luke Babbitt five each in the quarter. Evans also had four assists.
In a defensive first half, New Orleans took a 43-38 halftime lead behind 13 points and eight assists by Evans.
“It’s just a matter of me reading the system,” Evans said of flourishing in yet another new role. “Coach is doing a good job of pointing out the players who are going to be open, like the slant or the late pick or the late pass to the bigs or when I’m going to have (the drive) all the way.”