PORTLAND, Ore. — It was inevitable that New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams would field the question before Monday night’s game against Portland.
In a nutshell, how about that matchup between two of the Western Conference’s premier power forwards: your young star, Anthony Davis, and the Trail Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge?
Williams would have none of it. It’s a team game, he explained, not a one-on-one showdown.
If it were a battle of individuals, New Orleans probably leaves Portland feeling good about itself.
Davis shined, hitting his first eight shots of the second half on the way to tying a season-high with 31 points, along with 11 rebounds. Aldridge, a three-time All-Star, had 22 points and nine rebounds.
But, as Williams said, it’s a team game. And the team that played best when it mattered was Portland, which erased a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat New Orleans 102-93 in the Moda Center.
The rubble of a terrible fourth quarter buried what was an All-Star performance most of the night for Davis. Portland outscored New Orleans 34-10 during the final 10:03 after the Pelicans built an 83-68 lead.
“The game went up a notch,” Williams said, “and we didn’t.”
It was a bitter lesson for the young Pelicans, who were looking to generate momentum at the start of their four-game road trip. Instead, New Orleans has less than 24 hours to wipe away the negative thoughts: The Pelicans visit Sacramento on Tuesday night.
“This would have been a big win of us, but listen, we can’t dwell on it,” Pelicans guard Austin Rivers said. “Sacramento is no joke either. They have a good record. We have to move on. I mean, all you need on the road is momentum. We get a win tomorrow, and then we start feeling good.”
The growth of a young team is best measured by road performances. For three quarters, the Pelicans were growing by leaps and bounds. New Orleans had Davis cooking, and it frustrated Portland’s offense, holding the Blazers’ often-terrific perimeter shooting attack to just three 3-pointers through three quarters.
Portland ignited the Pelicans’ meltdown with 3-pointers by Steve Blake and C.J. McCollum. New Orleans’ 16-point lead began to crumble fast, and the Pelicans were powerless to stop it at either end.
“We had the game under control, and our fourth-quarter execution was about as bad as it’s been all year long,” Williams said. “We talk about the next-level stuff all the time, and for us to be a good team, we need to know when the moment arrives and be a better executing team.”
That includes, in Williams’ opinion, making sure to locate Davis when the game is at stake. Davis took only three shots in the final seven minutes, against a Portland defense he owned for most of the game.
Davis didn’t see it that way.
“It’s not a matter of scoring; I just want to win,” he said. “Whoever gets the ball, as long as the ball goes in the bucket, that’s all that matters. We had good looks.”
Portland coach Terry Stotts said the Blazers didn’t change their defense on Davis. He just played the percentages.
“I think one guy can beat you in certain situations, but I don’t think for 48 minutes he’s going to,” Stotts said. “So you do the best job you can on him as a team but also not lose focus of a team like New Orleans that has a lot of players that can score.”
Notes: Pelicans center Omer Asik (back) didn’t play Monday, and Williams was noncommittal as to whether he would return Tuesday against Sacramento. Alexis Ajinca took Asik’s place in the starting lineup, posting six points and seven rebounds. … Among the ugly fourth-quarter numbers: New Orleans made just 4 of 24 shots. Among the culprits was Jrue Holiday, who was 0-for-9 during the final quarter. … Portland’s 16-point comeback wasn’t even its biggest rally of the week. Last Tuesday, the Blazers wiped out a 23-point deficit to beat Charlotte 102-100.