The New Orleans Pelicans, seemingly thrown off-balance by the return of Anthony Davis, found their footing Saturday in time to get a big victory against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Pelicans, out of sync the entire first half, roared back in the second half with a strong third quarter, then fought off the Grizzlies in the fourth in taking a 95-89 victory.
“It was a character win, for sure, for our team,” said coach Monty Williams, the Pelicans bouncing back an 18-point third-quarter deficit Saturday after losing Friday to Boston in which they never could get a rhythm. “I thought we were trying to do the right thing in the first half, but we turned the ball over so many times, and they got to free-throw line and put us in a big hole.”
The win enabled the Pelicans (34-29) to match their victory total from last season and gave them a 2-1 season’s edge against Memphis (44-18), which has the second-best record in the Western Conference.
The most any team had come back against the Grizzlies was 14 points.
The Pelicans won by holding Memphis’ Marc Gasol (eight) and Zach Randolph (seven), one of the best inside tandems in the NBA, to a combined 15 points.
“We added (former Memphis player) Quincy Pondexter (in Jan. 12 trade), and he told us everything they were doing,” Davis said. “And, I think (Norris) Cole’s pressure on (Memphis point guard) Mike (Conley) in the second half was unbelievable.”
The Grizzlies also missed 10 of 29 free throws.
“Thankfully, they missed a ton of free throws, and we just tayed with it,” Williams said.
The win again brought New Orleans to a half-game of Oklahoma City in the conference’s eighth and final playoff spot. The Thunder plays host Sunday to Toronto, which has the second-best record in the East.
Point guard Tyreke Evans bounced back from seven turnovers in Friday’s loss to Boston and scored a game-high 26 points. Davis scored 23, with 10 rebounds and five blocks. Eric Gordon scored 16 and sealed the outcome.
Gordon answered a 3-pointer by Mike Conley with one at the 1:52 mark, keeping New Orleans ahead at 91-87. He sank two free throws with 24.5 seconds left that gave the Pelicans a 93-89 lead, all but ending it.
Evans and Omer Asik each made one of two free throws in the final seconds to seal the win.
As out-of-synch and devoid of energy the Pelicans were in the first half, they started the third quarter with much more renewed vigor.
Evans got the Pelicans started with a drive for the quarter’s first basket. Pondexter made a 3-pointer after stealing the ball, and another Evans drive followed.
The momentum — and the tempo — in their grasp, the Pelicans outscored Memphis 27-9 in taking a 65-59 lead by the 3:15 mark.
Evans and Davis each shot 5-of-7 and scored 10 points in the quarter.
“In the first half, I was trying to find guys, and it didn’t work out well,” Evans said.. “The coaches told me to start being aggressive. That’s when I started looking for my lanes and attacking the basket.”
The Pelicans shot 14-of-21 in outscoring Memphis 33-17 and taking a 71-67 lead into the fourth.
The Pelicans trailed 50-38 at halftime after turning the ball over 13 times 41-23 at 5:55 of the second after going on 16-5 run from the start of the quarter.
After Evans and Davis carried the Pelicans in a huge third quarter turnaround, the Pelicans received a big contribution in the fourth from a more unheralded source.
Cole, who came into the game having missed his past five 3-points attempts in the previous two games, sank a big one at the 6:11 mark that increased a one-point lead to 82-78.
Memphis came to one point of the Pelicans one more time, but that’s when Gordon hit his 3.