Anthony Davis came crashing down Monday night at the Smoothie King Center, and the Pelicans’ three-game winning streak followed suit. But New Orleans didn’t go down without a fight.
Davis took a second-quarter elbow from teammate Tyreke Evans and was diagnosed with a concussion, but the shorthanded Pelicans rallied from a 16-point deficit before falling to the Houston Rockets 112-111.
Jrue Holiday finished with 32 points, nine assists and six rebounds, but his desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer misfired, and Houston rode 35 points from James Harden and 31 from Trevor Ariza to hand New Orleans its second loss in seven games.
“When you fight like that, when you have guys out — especially your best player — and you battle down to seconds (left) in the game, you can hold your head high,” said Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson, who scored 22 points. “We’re proud of the effort. This is not a dip. We don’t view this is as a dip for us. We’ve been playing with the same consistent effort, and that’s what we’ve been looking for all year.”
All year, the Pelicans have faced injury adversity, and it came flooding back Monday.
With a little more than a minute left in the second quarter and the Pelicans leading 58-56, Davis took an inadvertent elbow from teammate Tyreke Evans pursuing a rebound. The Rockets scored off a loose-ball scramble as Davis lay on the floor clutching his head.
Davis was helped up and off the court with 1:02 to play before halftime. He was ruled out with a concussion during the second half.
“I jumped, he jumped and I think I hit him with an elbow,” Evans said. “Hopefully he’s all right and he can be playing next game.”
According to the NBA’s concussion protocol, a player diagnosed with a concussion will be “held out of all activity until he is symptom-free at rest and until he has no appreciable difference from his baseline neurological exam and his baseline score on the computerized cognitive assessment test.”
There is no specific timetable for how long a player must sit out. A player must follow a series of steps of increased exertion — from a stationary bike, to jogging, to agility work, to non-contact team drills — as part of the return-to-participation protocol.
“With each step, a player must be symptom-free to move to the next step,” the protocol reads. “If a player is not symptom-free after a step, he stops until he is symptom-free and begins again at the previous step of the protocol (i.e., the last step he passed without any symptoms).”
A team physician makes the return-to-participation decision but must discuss the return-to-participation process and decision with Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, director of the NBA’s Concussion Program, before the player is cleared for full participation.
Davis wasn’t the only injury casualty against the Rockets. Though Evans started and played 16 minutes, he went to the bench early in the third quarter and did not return.
Evans said he felt “sharp pain” in his right knee — surgery on which cost him the first 17 games of the season — and had the knee drained before the game. He planned to speak with the Pelicans medical staff Tuesday and said he expected to undergo an MRI on the knee.
With Davis out and Evans laboring — the Pelicans were outscored by 23 in Evans’ 16 minutes — the Rockets blitzed New Orleans to open the third quarter, scoring 18 straight points to take a 76-60 lead on Harden’s three free throws with 8:46 to play in the quarter.
But the Pelicans went small, limited the Rockets’ transition baskets and chipped away at the lead. But trailing 78-62 with 8:02 remaining in the third, the Pelicans went on a 10-2 run that trimmed the lead to single digits. An Ariza 3-pointer stretched the lead back to 90-79 with 2:23 to play in the third, but New Orleans had another answer.
Holiday scored eight points in a 13-3 run over the final 2:14 of the third, and Norris Cole banked in a deep 3-pointer to beat the buzzer, pulling the Pelicans within 93-92 entering the fourth.
“There was a sequence there where it felt like a track meet and we were just running,” Holiday said. “It was fun. I’m not sure if anybody was scoring, but it was fun.”
Holiday’s three-point play with 2:17 to play — he drove past Josh Smith for a layup and foul — put the Pelicans in front 109-107. But Patrick Beverley’s 3-pointer with 1:09 to play — off an assist from Harden — put Houston in front to stay 110-109, and Harden’s jumper with 34.2 seconds to play gave the Rockets a 112-109 cushion.
New Orleans had a chance after forcing a 24-second violation with 4.3 seconds to play, but with no timeouts — coach Alvin Gentry had been forced to call two during Houston’s third-quarter run — Holiday had to take the inbound and dribble into a deep 3-pointer that missed off the glass.
The Rockets, who played without center Dwight Howard, got off to blazing starts in the first and third quarters and made 19 of 39 3-pointers.
Even shorthanded, the Pelicans gave themselves a chance. But New Orleans, the third-best free-throw shooting team in the NBA, was 14-of-25 from the foul line.
“Obviously one of the keys coming into the game was transition, and out of the gate we let them do pretty much whatever they wanted to,” Holiday said. “But A.D. going down, he definitely would have helped us. And then those free throws.”