One game doesn’t predict what will happen for the next 33.
But, during the New Orleans Pelicans’ 112-103 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday, there were signs, both uplifting and ominous, of what the Pelicans are facing without DeMarcus Cousins.
It was their first game played without the All-Star center this season, just two days after Cousins tore an Achilles tendon, sidelining him for upwards of 10 months.
Without Cousins in tow, the Pelicans got their first taste of how defenses would adjust to their new-fangled and less powerful offense. After a rousing 62-point first half, charged by a 57-percent success rate from the field, New Orleans’ scoring fell apart.
It started when the Clippers’ defense collapsed on Davis, not allowing the All-NBA forward to work with the space he received when sharing the floor alongside Cousins. Without any fear of sending a second defender at Davis, he was forced to pass out of most post touches and instead search for outside shooters.
While Davis still finished with 25 points and 16 rebounds, the Pelicans acknowledged Davis’ scoring role was diminished due to the increased attention received.
“They’re not going to allow him to go one-on-one because they know what kind of player he is,” Gentry said. “So when they run another player after him, he has to be willing to make the right play. And that’s what he is. He’s a good basketball player, who makes the right play. And if the shots go in, he probably would’ve had 12 assists.
“So, we can’t start trying to make him be this thing that he’s not. He’s not going to be a guy who is going to force shots and try to get up 25 or 30 shots. He’s just going to do what he always has.”
While Davis’ unselfishness allowed the Pelicans to receive a bevy of open looks from the perimeter, they were unsuccessful in converting them. New Orleans made just 2-of-19 3-pointers in the second half, including a string of 11 consecutive misses in the third quarter, allowing LA to swiftly erase a 21-point lead.
The drought raised concerns about whether the supporting cast around Davis and Jrue Holiday is able to make up for the 25.2 points per game Cousins leaves behind when he heads to the operating table.
The answer on Sunday was a resounding “no.” But, Davis, Holiday and Gentry all said the system worked well enough to generate open looks and on many nights those would’ve powered the offense to success.
“Most of them were open, wide open, shots,” Holiday said. “So, especially in this league where 3-pointers are so important, I think we would definitely have to do it again because the shots were there.”
The Pelicans will have an opportunity to at least even the averages and quiet some doubts on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. when they host the Sacramento Kings inside the Smoothie King Center.
And Davis expects to see a similar defensive look surrounding him, recognizing his team is learning to adjust on the fly.
“I think we’ll see and it’s just something we’ll have to figure out,” Davis said. “The (Clippers) were doing it in the first half too and we played just fine. It was just a matter of getting open looks and we missed. So, we just have to do a better job of finishing those.
“We are just trying to figure out how teams are coming at us off that pick-and-roll and try to double team us, what should we do. That’s really it.”
Regardless of the result, Gentry was insistent the Pelicans aren’t lacking for poise or self-assuredness in their first forays without Cousins.
“I don’t think that has anything to do with it,” Gentry said. “Our team is very similar to the team we had last year, where, when we were healthy, we played good basketball. The guys are confident that we will be okay.”