Alvin Gentry has a flair for analogies.
The New Orleans Pelicans coach translated his team’s turnover problems into terminology more familiar to Louisiana audiences, comparing his ball-handlers to NFL quarterbacks before his team’s 106-105 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night in the Smoothie King Center.
“You just can’t make high-risk plays,” Gentry said before tipoff. “We’re not Brett Favre. Let’s be Tom Brady and make the easy, simple ones and not throw into double coverage, OK?"
One game after surrendering 23 turnovers in a win over the Clippers, it took New Orleans (8-6) more than three quarters for the message to sink in Monday. The struggling Hawks (2-12) benefitted from 13 Pelicans giveaways in the first half before New Orleans regrouped and held on in the final seconds.
An errant pass by Dennis Schroeder gave the Pelicans possession with 3.2 seconds remaining, but New Orleans’ inbound pass to Anthony Davis went high and giving Atlanta one final possession with 0.7 seconds remaining. Jrue Holiday blocked the final attempt to seal the win.
“At some point we have to grow up,” Jrue Holiday said. “Obviously, we executed today and got the win.”
Despite the uneven performance, the Pelicans won for the fifth time in their past six games, simply outmanning the rebuilding Hawks.
Davis and DeMarcus Cousins were held to just eight combined shots in first half, partially due to the Hawks' strategy of double-teaming both of them whenever the ball reached the post. However, that opened lanes for rarely discussed role players E’Twaun Moore and Darius Miller, who kicked their scoring into overdrive.
“That’s a look I haven’t seen in a while,” Cousins said. “So, you know, it was something we tried to adjust to on the fly. We found some bright spots in it. We had some negatives, but we found a way to get a win.”
Miller connected on four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and scored 14 points, including a shot from beyond the arc in the final minute to give the Pelicans a 106-104 lead and lift the 14,631 fans to their feet.
Moore chipped in a game-high 24 points, taking full advantage of the space provided to him.
“Once I saw them (crashing on Davis and Cousins), I knew I had to be aggressive,” Moore said. “I had to make cuts, drive the ball and try to make the game easier for them.”
Atlanta controlled the game from the opening tip and maintained it through the first three quarters, making 14 of its first 30 3-point attempts en route to a season-best 17 3s.
Even the arrival of former All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo, who made his first appearance of the season midway through the first quarter, couldn’t help the Pelicans shake the turnover bug.
New Orleans surrendered three steals in the first four minutes, including a mid-air interception on a half-court pass. Then Rondo checked in to an ovation from the home crowd and scored on his first possession. He played four minutes, 56 seconds; the Pelicans' plan is to slowly build his playing time as the week progresses.
“It was good to be out there with my teammates instead of cheering the entire game,” Rondo said. “I got my feet wet. Due to the schedule, we didn’t have a lot of time to practice, so I used this game as my practice to get a rhythm and get better.”
Nearly two quarters after Rondo left the floor, New Orleans finally pushed back into the lead, but it was never comfortable. The Hawks owned a 104-100 lead in the final two minutes before Holiday and Miller hit back-to-back 3s. Still, Atlanta's Kent Bazemore went to the free-throw line with a chance to tie in the final 10 seconds. He made only one of two shots, leading to the final sequence.
It was the kind of plucky performance Gentry warned his team about before tipoff, reminding them these Hawks defeated the LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers just a week ago.
“We’ll go back and look at it (Tuesday), but we won and that’s all that matters,” Davis said. “It’s tough to get wins in this league, and we just want to take care of home floor. Of course, we had a lot of turnovers again tonight, so we had to fight back but we made a few plays at the end.”
Despite turnovers and uneven performance, the Pelicans win against the Hawks.