NEW YORK — Alvin Gentry might want to test the water being served in the halftime locker room.
For the third consecutive game, the New Orleans Pelicans wasted a competitive first-half effort by being out-hustled, out-muscled and out-shot in the final 24 minutes. This time it was the New York Knicks who fired away in the second half, turning a slight halftime deficit into a 95-87 win over New Orleans in front of a sellout crowd of 19,812 fans at Madison Square Garden.
The loss dropped the Pelicans to 1-9 on the season, the worst record in the Western Conference.
“It’s the same tale as always,” shooting guard Eric Gordon said. “We played pretty good in the first half and, in the second half, offensively it wasn’t good and defensively it wasn’t consistent. It’s just tough right now.”
Unlike the previous two games of the road trip — losses at Atlanta and Toronto — the Pelicans were competitive in the final two minutes but simply couldn’t make the necessary plays to pull themselves out of the 10-point hole they dug into during the early portion of the fourth quarter.
The Pelicans could get no closer than four points in the final minutes as a pair of shots by Gordon and Jrue Holiday failed to get New Orleans into contention. Meanwhile, the Knicks (5-6) converted all of their free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.
It was emblematic of a sputtering offense, which failed to get into rhythm for the majority of the afternoon, converting just 45 percent from the field and 28 percent from the 3-point line.
“With the type of team and the type of players we have, we should never be slowed down on offense,” Gordon said. “It just shouldn’t happen.”
Sunday’s most important development may have been the return of Anthony Davis from a two-game absence with a contusion in his right hip. Davis scored 36 points and hauled in 11 rebounds while swatting four blocks.
And there wasn’t any rust to knock off. Davis knocked a 3-pointer on his second shot, then blistered the Knicks for most of 40 minutes on the floor.
In his first 12 minutes, Davis scored 16 points on 10 shots while pulling down seven rebounds. His play kept New Orleans afloat during a half in which the Pelicans surrendered nine offensive rebounds.
“It felt great to be back, but that doesn’t mean anything because we still lost,” he said. “I just want to win. I don’t care if I have 40 points, two points or zero. I just want to win. Right now, we just to have to find a way to do that.”
The Knicks turned a two-point halftime deficit into a six-point lead at the end of the third quarter, leaning heavily on Carmelo Anthony, who led his team with 29 points and 13 rebounds. New York opened the second half on an 8-0 run and only briefly trailed again.
The Knicks repeatedly found open looks as Pelicans defenders missed cutters to the basket. Rarely used reserve Knicks center Kevin Seraphin scored 12 critical points in the second half.
“We just have to communicate better,” Gentry said. “We are the only ones who can dig out of this. We can play hard and we can compete and do what we are supposed to do. If it works out, then that’s fine. And if it doesn’t work out, that’s fine also.
“But we are not doing that. We are not competing at the highest level we can ... to get the game back workable. We have to be able to dig in and get some stops.”
It starts with playing a complete game. After opening the season with a string of poor first halves, the story is the same but the timing changed to a series of second-half failures.
While several Pelicans acknowledged the issue, there was no consensus on how to overcome it.
“We do it for the first half, and then the third quarter comes and we kind of take a step back — and we can’t afford to do that,” Davis said. “We have to play like we are desperate to get wins. Once we figure that out, we will be a lot better.”