The New Orleans Pelicans had just come off a disappointing road loss to the San Antonio Spurs in which a tip-in at the wrong basket sent the game into overtime.
The Pelicans bounced back strongly, however.
In their most complete performance of the season, particularly considering the opponent, the Pelicans took a resounding 111-83 Southwest Division win over the Houston Rockets on Friday night at Smoothie King Center.
“To be able to against a playoff team, a team that’s going to contend for a championship, that way after what happened the other night, says a ton about the character and resiliency in the locker room,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “I thought it started with the shootaround (Friday) morning. We basically had a practice.”
Perhaps, they should do that more often. Houston (22-10), which s entered the game fourth in the Western Conference playoff race, was held to 39.8 percent shooting. The Rockets, statistically the NBA’s third-best 3-point shooting team, shot just 6-of-29 (20.7 percent) from behind the arc.
Houston guard James Harden, coming in as the NBA’s leading scorer at 27.7 points per game, was held to 11.
Meanwhile, with Ryan Anderson, one day before the first anniversary of his career-threatening neck injury, scored a game-high 22 points. Tyreke Evans scored 21, as the Pelicans (17-16) shot 53.0 percent. Before Williams cleared the bench in the fourth quarter, New Orleans was shooting 58.9 percent.
Rockets coach Kevin McHale had sat his starters by then, also, with 1:01 left in the third quarter. Asked why he did so, McHale answered, “Were you watching the game?”
“We didn’t play very well,” said McHale, his face enveloped in embarrassment and disappointment. “We did not have any effort tonight, any concentration. They kicked our butt every which way.”
It was the largest margin of victory by the Pelicans in the history of the series and Houston’s most-lopsided loss of the season. It also gave New Orleans a 2-0 lead in the series this season, coupled with its victory at Houston on Dec. 18.
Asked when things turned for the worst, McHale said, “in the first five minutes of the game.”
The Pelicans took a 9-2 lead on their way to a 29-20 margin by the end of the first quarter that certainly did not seem to foretell what was to transpire. However, by halftime, New Orleans had forged ahead by a commanding 59-42 behind its spirited effort.
So dominating was the performance that All-Star forward Anthony Davis had scored just four points in the first half, yet the Pelicans were completely in control.
“We got it going with our defense, and then emotion kicks into it, with our crowd, and we were having a lot of fun,” Davis said.
In the first half, New Orleans held the Rockets to 18-of-50 shooting, stifling their vaunted 3-point attack to the tune of 3-of-17 (17.6 percent). The Pelicans blocked seven shots, with point guard Jrue Holiday getting two on 3-point attempts.
With their defense at high intensity, the Pelicans’ fast break got going, and a big reason the NBA’s leading team in points in the paint had 32 by the break and made 25 of 44 shots (56.8 percent).
Anderson led the way with 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting, and Evans had 15, shooting 7-of-10.
They came out of halftime with the same intensity, going on a 16-4 run to start the third quarter. That produced a 73-46 lead, largest of the game to that point. During the burst, the Pelicans shot 6-of-7 in taking advantage of four Rockets turnovers and 2-of-8 shooting by Houston.
The lead reached 87-58 at 1:44 of the third quarter on a 27-foot 3-pointer by Anderson, and the quarter ended with the same 29-point bulge, 89-60.
The margin reached 32 points in the fourth quarter — 106-74 — at the 4:08 mark on a driving reverse layup by Austin Rivers. Rivers had one of the plays of the game at 8:53 of the quarter, a two-handed slam of a lob from Jimmer Fredette for a 31-point lead 93-62.
Davis finished with just seven points and eight rebounds, but had three blocks and helped lead the effort. The bench, with Dante Cunningham getting 13 points, three steals and playing with what Williams called “an edge,” had 59 points. Fredette had 10 points.
Small forward/shooting guard John Salmons was at shoot-around Friday morning after having left the team Tuesday for what the Pelicans said were “personal reasons.” Williams said then he didn’t expect Salmons back anytime soon, city a family matter that was fairly serious. However, Salmons said Friday: “Things got better.” He said he didn’t want to disclose anything more. … Shooting guard Eric Gordon reiterated Friday he expects to return to practice on Sunday. Gordon has not practiced since his left labrum was torn during a game at the Utah Jazz on Nov. 22. … Saturday is the anniversary of Anderson’s neck injury against the Boston Celtics. Celtics forward Gerald Wallace collided with Anderson, and he was taken from the court on a stretcher. He missed the rest of the season with two herniated discs, eventually having surgery in April.