LOS ANGELES — What’s left of the New Orleans Pelicans limped into Staples Center on Sunday afternoon and delivered their best game of a three-game road trip.
But even the return of All-Star forward Anthony Davis was not enough to deliver a victory: The Los Angeles Clippers surged past the Pelicans in the third quarter to win 107-100.
The Pelicans finished their trip to Phoenix, Golden State and Los Angeles 0-3, and they fell three games back of Oklahoma City in the chase for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff berth.
“I told the team I could look at the (18) turnovers and the 31-point third quarter (by the Clippers), but the challenges that these guys have had to face this year, to be able to play like they did today, undermanned, says a lot about our group, and the assistant coaches that are getting them ready to play,” coach Monty Williams said.
“The loss hurts, badly, but we had a chance for a while. We couldn’t take care of the ball the way we needed to, but I can’t argue with the way our guys competed.”
The Pelicans (37-33) opened with a 13-2 burst before the Clippers came hard back at them. New Orleans shot well throughout and held a 53-50 lead at halftime.
“They were really aggressive; they really set the tone with their physicality,” New Orleans forward Quincy Pondexter said of the Clippers (46-25), who won their fourth in a row. “We had turnovers, the ball didn’t bounce our way and we came up a little short. But they’re still a great team over there. They have been playing together for a while and played really hard tonight.”
New Orleans’ upset bid was short-circuited with 6:41 left when Davis’ follow jam was wiped out by an offensive goaltending call — one that replays clearly showed was in error — as well as a technical foul on Williams.
A subsequent Clippers basket yielded a five-point swing in what had been a two-point game.
“Anything I can say, my opinion, will be a fine,” Williams said. “It was a tough call.”
Davis hit his first eight shots and finished with 26 points on 11-of-13 shooting. He added 12 rebounds in his return to the lineup after missing the past two losses with a left ankle sprain.
“We actually should have got him more looks tonight, but we turned the ball over so much that we couldn’t do that,” Williams said.
Davis, as usual, was unflappable when asked about getting just 13 field-goal attempts.
“You run in the flow of the offense,” he said. “Sometimes, on plays that are designed for me, teams are doing a great job of taking me out, so we try to get other guys comfortable with knocking down shots, which will open things up later.”
Guard Eric Gordon, who came off the bench because of a violation of team policy, scored 23 points and hit 5 of 8 3-pointers. Pondexter was 4-of-4 from beyond the arc, and point guard Norris Cole was 2-of-2 — but had six turnovers.
“(The Clippers) defended really well,” Williams said. “Their defense is pretty good, but we had a lot of turnovers tonight, a lot of senseless turnovers.”
Clippers point guard (and former New Orleans star) Chris Paul had 23 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds — after being held to two first-quarter points. Forward Blake Griffin also scored 23 for Los Angeles.
“It’s been tough,” Gordon said of the Pelicans’ many injuries. “It’s taken its toll. When we’re all healthy, it makes the game easier.”