After much consideration, Alvin Gentry opted not to change the Pelicans’ starting lineup for Thursday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers.
And as it turned out, starting wasn’t the issue.
It was the Pelicans’ finishing five who couldn’t quite seal the deal.
New Orleans rallied from 11 points down in the fourth quarter, but clutch plays from Jamal Crawford and Chris Paul propelled the Clippers to a 95-89 New Year’s Eve win Thursday at the Smoothie King Center.
“They’ve been in that situation so many times,” Gentry said of the veteran Clippers. “Jamal came up with a big shot, and I thought that CP kind of controlled the game like he’s used to doing.”
Crawford’s jumper with 1:30 to play put Los Angeles in front to stay 88-87 and Paul — who shot 3 for 18 in the game — buried a jumper with a minute to play that gave the Clippers a 90-87 cushion.
The Pelicans, meanwhile, had two missed shots and two turnovers on their last five possessions, falling to 10-22 despite holding Los Angeles to 38.9 percent shooting.
“It was great defense,” said Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, who finished with 14 points, 15 rebounds and two blocked shots. “We just didn’t execute at the end. We missed shots, (had a) couple turnovers towards the end. That’s what we’ve got to get better at, executing down the stretch and making wining plays.”
J.J. Redick scored 26 points — the Clippers improved to 8-0 when he scores 20 or more — and kept L.A. in the game early as the Pelicans threatened to run away with the first quarter.
Gentry said on Wednesday that he might alter his starting five of Davis, Alonzo Gee, Omer Asik, Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon. But that group got the Pelicans off to a strong start, jumping ahead 7-0 and 11-3 before Redick shot the Clippers into a rhythm.
“I thought we did a good job (at the start),” Gentry said. “I thought we got a little careless, and we should have had maybe a larger lead than we had. We got a little careless with the ball, and we gave up a few second shots. But I thought that we tried to compete, and we did a good job.”
The Pelicans’ problem wasn’t to open the game. It came at the close.
Los Angeles led 76-65 on Cole Aldrich’s basket with 10:44 to play. The Clippers led by seven with 8:37 to play after a Pablo Prigioni steal and layup.
But the Pelicans went on a 9-2 run — Ryan Anderson scored five points of his team-high 17 points in that stretch — and tied the game at 80 on Davis’ rebound and dunk with 5:53 to play.
New Orleans missed four straight shots as the Clippers scored four straight to take an 84-80 lead on DeAndre Jordan’s putback with 4:12 to play. A Jrue Holiday 3-pointer with 3:27 to play and a Tyreke Evans free throw at the 2:42 mark tied the game at 84.
After a pair of Redick free throws, Evans drove for a layup and drew a foul with 1:48 to play, and his ensuing free throw gave the Pelicans their first lead of the second half 87-86.
But Crawford answered that jumper to put the Clippers ahead 88-87 with 1:30 to play, and Jordan broke up a Holiday lob for Davis at the other end to force a turnover. Paul’s jumper with one minute to play put Los Angeles ahead 90-87.
Paul finished with only nine points but had 12 assists.
Holiday made a pull-up jumper with 53.9 seconds to play to cut the lead to 90-89, but Crawford answered with a jumper, and Davis missed a contested layup at the other end.
“We had some shots that’s very makeable shots that we didn’t get in the basket,” Gentry said. “A couple times, we took a tough alley to the basket and couldn’t quite get it there. You got to be able to execute and get the ball to the right person, and they got to be able to get it in the basket.”