DALLAS — The time, Alvin Gentry said, had come to make a move.
The New Orleans Pelicans coach said before Saturday night’s game at the Dallas Mavericks that the new year is a line in the sand, the moment the Pelicans must begin to turn their recent string of close losses into wins if they are to pull themselves into serious playoff contention after an ugly start.
If that’s the case, they’re off to a good start.
The Pelicans showed the nerve and shooting touch down the stretch Gentry was looking for, scoring eight of the game’s final 10 points in the final two minutes as they held off the Mavericks 105-98 for a rare win on the road.
“We had a chance in a close game against L.A., and we didn’t finish it off,” guard Norris Cole said, referring to a heartbreaking New Year’s Eve loss to the Clippers. “Tonight we had a close game down the stretch, and we were able to execute it and finish it off. That’s good for our confidence. It’s a step in the right direction on the road.”
Cole was a huge reason the Pelicans (11-22) were able to pull off a victory at American Airlines Center after six consecutive defeats on the Mavericks’ home court. New Orleans is 4-15 away from home this season.
Taking over the role of the multitalented Tyreke Evans, who was a late scratch due knee tendinitis, Cole filled the stat sheet on his own. The 6-2 reserve scored 16 points on 7-of-16 shooting and added four assists, four steals — matching his career best — and a career-high 12 rebounds.
The Pelicans, who entered the game ranked 26th in the NBA in rebounds per game, demolished the Mavericks on the boards 53-33 and outscored Dallas 13-4 on second-chance points.
“I just wanted to do something to help our big guys out,” Cole said. “They’re down there battling. We always talk about doing extra. Not just scoring, but the extra hustle plays, dominating those categories: steals, defensive rebounds, deflections, things like that. Getting the activity up. That’s something I wanted to bring tonight.”
He wasn’t alone. Young superstar Anthony Davis had a monster night with 31 points (on 59 percent shooting) and 14 rebounds, and Jrue Holiday continued his strong play off the bench, putting up 20 points and a team-high five assists in 30 minutes.
“Jrue’s kind of found his niche on this team, and he’s embraced that role we’ve asked him to have,” Gentry said.
Holiday also put the final dagger into the Mavericks (19-15).
Up by one with two minutes to go, the Pelicans took their coach’s words to heart and decided another close defeat wasn’t good enough. Forward Ryan Anderson ignited the decisive run by going hard to the basket and drawing a pair of fouls, then burying all four free throws.
With the Pelicans nursing a three-point lead and the clock ticking down, Holiday took on Dallas guard J.J. Barea one-on-one and blew by him on the baseline for a slick left-handed layup that pushed the advantage to 103-98 with 10.9 seconds left.
“I just thought I had an opportunity,” Holiday said. “Obviously, he’s a smaller guy, so I didn’t want the switch. From that point, I just tried to take it to the basket and get a good shot. By the grace of God, it went in. At first I thought it was going to slip out, but it stayed down.”
That basket took away the Mavericks’ last hope after they had erased a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit that was created by an 18-5 New Orleans run late in the third period, sparked by a pair of Davis jumpers and a long 3-pointer and a tough tipin from Ryan Anderson.
The Pelicans held that margin into the fourth thanks to Davis’ hot start, but the Mavericks crawled back into it behind the 3-point touch of Wesley Matthews, who hit 4-of-10 from long range for the night, including 3-of-4 in the fourth quarter. With 6:12 left, Matthews drilled a 3 from the left wing in transition to complete the comeback and tie it at 82.
But for the first time in what seems like forever, when it mattered, the Pelicans held firm.
“The difference tonight was the defense,” Gentry said. “We did a really great job. Even when (the Mavericks) made that really big run, if you go back and look, they made some really tough shots. ... But we weathered that, stayed in there and competed — and found a way to get ahead.”