The Pelicans are partying like it’s 2011.
The year best remembered for the release of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”, Kim Kardashian’s first wedding and the Casey Anthony trial was also the last time New Orleans’ NBA team carried a six-game winning streak.
Monday’s 125-116 victory over the struggling Phoenix Suns temporarily pulled the Pelicans into fifth place in the bunched-up Western Conference, making a steady climb over the past three weeks.
Once again, Anthony Davis carried the Pelicans’ offense with a dizzying display of highlights, finishing with a season-best 53 points, while adding 17 rebounds. It’s the fourth time during the winning streak he’s eclipsed the 40-point barrier and the third 50-point game of his career.
"Thank you Anthony, for carrying us," Jrue Holiday said. "Appreciate you."
Davis tallied 37 points in his first 27 minutes, exploiting nearly every defender the Suns threw his way. In fact, big men Dragan Bender, Alex Len and Marquess Criss all fouled out by the midway point of the fourth quarter.
The Pelicans’ lone healthy All-Star is starting to slowly muscle his way into the MVP conversation without DeMarcus Cousins by his side. It was solidified when the home crowd loudly chanted those three letters as Davis camped out at the free-throw line, setting career highs in both attempts and makes (21 of 26).
He was aided by an efficient Holiday, who scored 20 points on six of his eight attempts, and Rajon Rondo’s 12 assists.
“Everybody's doing this together; that's what makes this so special,” Davis said. “Everybody's doing it without one of our main guys, so it makes it more special, especially when everybody thought we were going to go down in the standings, we're actually moving up."
The night belonged to Davis, who tallied his best scoring night since the 2016-17 season opener.
"I talked to (Suns forward) Josh Jackson when (Davis) had 50," Holiday said. "He's like, 'He's got 50?' I'm like, 'Yeah he been killing y'all. All your bigs is on the bench.' That's Anthony. Like I said, thank you, Anthony."
While it turned out to be the latest in a season-best streak, for a while it appeared Monday’s game could be the continuation of a season-long problem.
New Orleans has lost to five of the six worst teams in the NBA this season, and the Pelicans appeared to be in jeopardy of making it a full set, falling behind by 17 points in the first half and unable to gain separation even after taking the lead in the third quarter.
It unfolded in a manner consistent with those previous losses.
First, the Pelicans displayed little energy from the onset. Led by the cranked-up pace of former Moss Point, Mississippi, standout Devin Booker, the Suns flew past the sluggish Pelicans for 36 first-quarter points and finished the half up 65-58.
Booker tallied 27 of his team-high 40 points before intermission, and he added seven rebounds. His performance was emblematic of the Pelicans’ dilemma.
And the Pelicans couldn’t put their foot on the Suns’ throat after gaining a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter. They allowed Phoenix to climb back to a two-point deficit on four occasions before finally putting them away with a five-point possession inside of two minutes. Darius Miller was fouled while hitting a 3-pointer; he missed the free throw but rebounded and dished to Holiday, who drove in for a dunk and a 121-114 lead.
Even as the Suns poked and prodded their way back into the game, Davis repeatedly slammed the door shut.
The final denial came when Davis skied for a put-back slam in the final two minutes, jamming home his 53rd point and 17th rebound and handing the Pelicans a 123-116 advantage.
Davis then took to center court, arms extended, waving to the crowd, which shouted in appreciation and exaltation.
The excitement was palpable, and it’s understandable, considering it’s the first time New Orleans has seen anything like this since 2011.
“It’s emotional,” Davis said. “The way we're playing and everybody pitching in. We're playing tremendously right now. Everybody's stepping up. The fans are into it up. The bench is into it. And the five guys on the court are talking, helping each other out and it gets emotional. Every now and then I do something like that."