MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Alvin Gentry already had drawn up a potential game-winning (or at least game-tying) play in his mind.
The first-year New Orleans Pelicans coach managed to crack a smile at the thought of it.
“I’m sure it would have worked,” he said.
Unfortunately for Gentry, he’ll never know.
The Pelicans were unable to secure a rebound after Memphis’ Courtney Lee missed a free throw with 3.5 seconds left and instead had to settle for a coulda, woulda, shoulda 101-99 loss to the Grizzlies on Monday afternoon in the FedEx Forum.
“That’s a rebound we’ve got to have,” Anthony Davis said.
Instead, Marc Gasol tipped the ball toward the other end of the court as the final seconds ticked off in a game the Pelicans (13-27) felt they let slip away. It would have been their third straight win, which would have matched a season high.
“Unfortunately we didn’t get (the win) because of a bad bounce,” Gentry said. “Our guys did exactly what they should do. We stepped in and we pinched, and it was a long rebound that came off pretty hard. Gasol, being the smart player he is, tipped it back.”
It wasn’t just that bounce that did in the Pelicans. There also was a crucial four-minute stretch early in the fourth quarter when they went scoreless.
A free throw by Davis with 9:53 left put his team ahead 81-77. But the Pelicans didn’t score again until a Jrue Holiday layup with 5:50 remaining. By that time, Memphis had taken an 87-83 lead.
“That was tough,” Gentry said. “We just didn’t get the ball in the basket. That’s probably the difference in the game, really.”
The drought came when Davis injured his wrist on a play where he was called for a charge. Davis said after the game that he was still feeling “a little bit” of pain.
But he played through it, finishing with 21 points and eight rebounds. He scored just five points in the second half — four after tweaking his wrist.
“I’m not going to let anything stop me from being on the floor,” he said. “I try to be on there as much as possible. You play through injuries. I do as much as I can to try to get a win. But we came up short.”
Despite the fourth-quarter lull, the Pelicans had a chance, erasing a 98-92 deficit with 2:34 left. With his team trailing 100-97, Holiday drove and scored on a layup with 4.6 seconds left to bring the Pelicans within one. Lee then made the first of two free throws to set the final margin.
Holiday came off the bench to score a game-high 23 points for the Pelicans, who had to scratch Tyreke Evans right before tipoff. Evans experienced soreness in his knee during warmups.
Gentry went with a starting lineup he hadn’t used all season: Davis, Omer Asik, Dante Cunningham, Eric Gordon and Norris Cole.
That starting five got off to a slow start, then shot a scorching 64.3 percent (9-of-14) in the opening quarter to take a 26-24 lead. Holiday came off the bench and scored on a three-point play and a jumper to close the quarter.
“Jrue Holiday seems like he always gives us problems and always plays well against us,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said.
The Grizzlies answered in the second quarter, outscoring the Pelicans 20-10 to start the period and take a 44-36 lead. New Orleans responded, going on a 12-5 run to close the half. Ryan Anderson’s 3-pointer from way beyond the line at the buzzer put the Pelicans ahead 51-49 at halftime.
It was the Pelicans’ second loss of the season to the Grizzlies (24-19). Gasol torched the Pelicans for a career-high 38 points in a 113-104 victory in December at the Smoothie King Center.
This time, he finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, including the critical one at the end. Gasol was one of four Grizzlies tied with a team-high 16 points, joining Lee, Jeff Green and Matt Barnes.
“We played hard and did everything we thought we needed to do to win the game,” Gentry said. “We did a great job on Zach Randolph and a good job on Gasol. ... They are a very difficult team to beat in this building. It’s tough winning on the road in the NBA, and I thought we allowed ourselves an opportunity.”
The Pelicans start a seven-game homestand Tuesday against Minnesota. It’s a quick turnaround — but perhaps what the team needs to quickly remove the sour taste of Monday’s loss.
“We did what we were supposed to do to be in the game,” Holiday said, “but we didn’t finish.”