San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich tried to congratulate New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams, but couldn’t get to him. Williams was too busy wrapped in a bear hug with Tyreke Evans to talk with his mentor.
The Pelicans had just beaten the defending champion Spurs 108-103 to earn the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2011.
New Orleans (45-37), which won the season series against San Antonio for the first time in franchise history, also finished with its best home record (28-13) since that 2011 season, earned the Western Conference’s eighth and final seed and will play No. 1-seeded Golden State beginning 2:30 p.m. CDT Saturday in Oakland.
“We know it’s going to be tough,” said Evans, who had 19 points and 11 assists and seemingly drove for a basket several times to answer a Spurs basket or stem a scoring run. “Nothing came easy this season. To make the playoffs and beat the champs on our court is just a special feeling.”
San Antonio (55-27), which had won 11 consecutive games — tying an NBA record with nine in a row by at least 12 points — lost a chance to secure the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and win the Southwest Division title.
Anthony Davis had 31 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots, scored a key basket down the stretch and ripped down three big rebounds as the Spurs threatened to pull out a victory or send the game into overtime. His final one came with 4.7 seconds left, and he sank to free throws after Jrue Holiday had hit two, sealing the outcome.
“I love (coach Monty Williams),” Davis said. “We were 3½ games behind (the eighth seed), and he said, ‘I’ve been around too long, anything can happen.’
“We beat a tough team that was playing for something.”
New Orleans, which scored a 63 points in the first half against San Antonio and led by as many as 23 points, had anxious moments at the end, as Patty Mills made a 3-pointer to bring San Antonio to 104-101 with 11.2 seconds left.
“We made a great run, but New Orleans was on fire,” Popovich said. “We hadn’t played that bad in the first half in a long time. We held them to 45 (points) in the second half, but we gave up too much in the first.”
Within 1:05 of the fourth quarter, San Antonio came to 83-76, the six-point margin the lowest since 2:35 of the first quarter.
By the eight-minute mark, the Spurs began a hack-a-Shaq against center Omer Asik, a 59 percent free-throw shooter.
Asik went 3-of-6 from the line, keeping New Orleans ahead by six. However, Williams had a decision to make. He took out Asik, risking the possibility of Duncan being a big scoring threat.
However, Davis held his own in the post until Asik came back in the final two minutes.
Gordon and Evans had his back, though, driving for consecutive layups for a 92-83 breathing room at 6:08. When Davis sank a shot-clock beating baseline jumper with 1:36 left, New Orleans led 101-92.
Gordon hit two big 3s, the second coming at 5:01 that pushed the lead to 97-86.
After leading as many as 23 points in the first half, the Pelicans saw their lead cut to 69-59 by the eight-minute mark of the third.
However, Holiday, taken out in the second quarter for getting a little too fancy, came back in with six minutes showing and helped right the ship.
He found Asik rolling to the basket then at 4:39 drove for a basket, getting the lead back up to 75-59. The Pelicans led 82-71 entering the fourth.
New Orleans started with a lot of energy against a team known for starting fast and putting teams in an early hole. Closing the first quarter on a 14-1 run, the Pelicans led 34-19 after the first.
The lead quickly went to 20 points — 39-19 — on a 3 by Holiday 46 seconds into the second.
However, backup point guard Norris Cole, brought in at the 5:55 mark, scored 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting, had an assists and two steals, lifting New Orleans’ lead to 54-31.