HOUSTON — The Pelicans came into the Toyota Center and held the Rockets to 41 percent shooting. They made Houston star James Harden work hard for each of his 24 points. They won the battle on the backboards by 14.
And they lost. Again.
The Rockets turned 23 Pelicans turnovers into 27 points and rallied from a 14-point first-half deficit to beat New Orleans 108-101.
“That’s really the frustrating thing,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “I think if you have (an opponent) shoot 41 percent on the road, you should have an opportunity to win the game. And at the end of the day, the last five minutes, we didn’t have, really, an opportunity.”
The Pelicans (4-15) took an 87-86 lead on Toney Douglas’ 3-pointer with 8:57 to play in the game.
But Houston responded with a 10-0 run and never trailed after James Harden’s step-back jumper the Rockets in front 88-87 at the 8:12 mark.
After Houston stretched its lead to seven on Trevor Ariza’s 3-pointer with 5:25 to play, New Orleans never got closer than four.
It was a poor finish to a game that, for the second-straight night, started out well for the Pelicans.
New Orleans led 29-17 after one quarter, holding the Rockets to 30.4 percent shooting in the quarter. Harden had two points in the first, missed five of six shots and didn’t get to the free-throw line.
The defense on Harden was a harbinger of things to come. The Rockets star scored 24 points, but he made seven of 20 shots, including one of eight 3-pointers. He was 9-for-10 from the free-throw line.
But the rest of the first quarter was a struggle to carry into the rest of the night.
The Pelicans had 10 assists and four turnovers in the first 12 minutes. They finished the game with 20 assists and 23 turnovers.
“Very frustrating,” said forward Anthony Davis, who had a late scoring flurry to finish with 29 points and added 13 rebounds.
“We just need to have a complete game. We felt good about this game, especially doing a great job on James.”
But poor shooting — the Pelicans shots 40.9 percent, and 28 percent from 3-point range — and the turnovers were too much to overcome. New Orleans had 14 in the second half, including 10 in the third quarter, and the Rockets scored 12 of their 36 third-quarter points off turnovers.
Six Pelicans had at least two turnovers. Ryan Anderson, who scored 19 points, turned the ball over six times.
“That’s what killed hurt us tonight, turnovers,” said guard Tyreke Evans, who had eight assists and three turnovers. “We had a lot inbound plays where they just snatched the ball. … That’s just trying to play fast. We’ve got to do a better job of that, looking to see where the guy’s at and making sure we have a clear way we can catch the ball.”
That helped contribute to 50 points in the paint for the Rockets on an otherwise solid defensive night. The Pelicans held Houston to 8-of-27 shooting from 3-point range and 36-of-87 overall.
The turnovers “let our offense just degrade our defense,” guard Eric Gordon said.
“Eighty, 90 percent chance you turn over the ball a lot against a team like that you’re going to lose,” Gordon said. “That’s what they do. They’re scrappy, they play fast. They got a lot of guards. You’re just handing them points when you turn over the ball.”
And when the game was on the line, it was the Rockets turning Pelicans mistakes into baskets, or making clutch jumpers. For the second straight night, New Orleans let a big lead slip away and turn into a loss.
“We didn’t play with a lot of energy when we needed to,” Davis said. “Of course that first quarter, we did. That’s how we were able to get that lead. We were sharing the ball. Then that second half, we just stopped playing when we needed crucial possessions.”