Maybe, Alvin Gentry will admit, he spoke too soon.
It’s not that his Pelicans are in the thick of the NBA playoff hunt — and Thursday’s 94-86 loss to the San Antonio Spurs at the Smoothie King Center didn’t help — but Gentry admits he maybe shouldn’t have ruled them out of it.
After Wednesday’s loss to the Rockets in Houston, Gentry said of his team, “we’re not” in a playoff race. He backed off a bit on Thursday.
“I was emotional, and yeah, I will say that I shouldn’t have said it,” Gentry said before Thursday’s game. “I’m not afraid to say that. But at that time I was just so frustrated.”
He could take some solace Thursday in the way his team competed with the NBA’s second-best team. But the Pelicans’ late-game frustrations continued.
Tied at 86-86 with 2:42 to play, the Pelicans failed to score the rest of the way, watched as the Spurs reeled off eight straight points to seal the win and drop New Orleans to 0-28 this season when it fails to score at least 100 points.
LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored 26 points, put San Antonio in front to stay on a jumper with 2:06 to play. Kawhi Leonard, who had a game-high 30 points, iced the game with a 3-pointer with 35 seconds remaining.
“We have to learn some kind of way how to close out a game,” Gentry said after the gae. “I thought we had played and competed at a real high, high level, had the game tied at the end of the third quarter, and we were right there. I thought we gave great effort throughout the game. We got to be able to finish the game by making some plays and making some defensive stops.”
Neither came in the closing minutes for the Pelicans, whose only two shots after Aldridge tied the game came from Eric Gordon, who led New Orleans with 23 points. Tim Duncan blocked both attempts.
“I was trying to create contact,” Grodon said. “On one drive I thought Duncan hit my arm as I was trying to get to the basket. He made a good play on another play. I think it was a blocked shot. Just got to do a better job of finishing toward the end of the game.”
Anthony Davis scored 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds for the Pelicans, but he didn’t get have a field-goal attempt after his 13-foot jumper with 3:36 to play put New Orleans in front 86-82.
With 8:52 to play in the third quarter, Davis went to the locker room with blood dripping from his lower lip, the result of an elbow from Duncan — the play resulted in a foul call on Davis — and the Pelicans responded with their star off the floor. Trailing 54-50, New Orleans made eight of nine shots — including seven straight — that featured two 3-pointers from Gordon.
The second of those Gordon 3-pointers came from 25 feet away and put the Pelicans in front 68-61 with 2:17 to play in the third quarter, but the Spurs closed the quarter on a 7-0 run and tied the game at 68-68 entering the fourth.
Davis returned in the fourth and had seven points and five rebounds in the quarter. He was unable to speak to reporters after the game with the cut on his lip, but answered questions submitted to the Pelicans’ public relations staff via text.
“They made tough shots,” Davis said. “They got two big offensive rebounds that we have to get in moments like that. (We) had some good looks down the stretch and missed them but mainly we just have to come up with stops especially late in the game.”
Late-game situations have been perilous for the Pelicans during their current three-game losing streak. New Orleans has been outscored 86-61 in the fourth quarters of those three games.
As a result, the Pelicans’ already slim playoff hopes are dwindling.
With Thursday’s loss, New Orleans is 23-37, 6½ games behind Houston for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot. They’ve fallen into 12th place in the West, meaning they have three teams to vault just to catch the Rockets.
But contrary to Gentry’s reaction in Houston on Wednesday, New Orleans isn’t ready to call it quits just yet. Gordon said Thursday was proof that the Pelicans are getting better, that they have the capacity to make a run if they can fix their late-game issues.
“I know we’re still a long shot to make the playoffs, but we’re going to play just like we’re playing for the playoffs, it doesn’t matter what,” Gentry said. “We owe that to the fans and we owe that to all the people that have been so supportive of us.”