OKLAHOMA CITY — Anthony Davis took the New Orleans Pelicans’ embarrassing loss to Portland on Saturday night hard.
Scoring just seven points and grabbing six rebounds was far below his standards, and he centered the blame on himself. He then vowed to his teammates to play better Sunday against Western Conference power Oklahoma City.
Consider that promise kept.
Davis delivered a stellar performance — 38 points and 12 rebounds — to lift New Orleans to a 101-99 victory at Chesapeake Energy Arena and put the Pelicans back on track heading into Tuesday’s game at Indiana.
“When we start losing, start missing shots, start getting frustrated, I start being selfish, so all of that was on me,” Davis said. “So I told them tonight, ‘I’m going to go back to how I play, how we play,’ and that’s what I tried to do tonight.”
New Orleans (14-13) remains ahead of the Thunder (13-15) for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. This was its second victory this month against Oklahoma City. And it was far from easy, even with Davis’ performance.
Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook missed a 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds remaining, and Serge Ibaka’s tip-in also missed before the ball fell into the hands of the Pelicans’ Tyreke Evans to seal the victory. That came after Westbrook and Reggie Jackson went 0-for-6 over the final three minutes with their team attempting to tie it or take the lead.
It was an impressive stretch of defense for the Pelicans to slow Westbrook, who was the main threat with reigning MVP Kevin Durant sidelined for the second straight game with a sprained ankle.
“Obviously with KD out, he’s the dominant (scorer),” said Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday, who contested Westbrook’s final shot and had a steal to set up the winning dunk by Davis with 2:58 left. “My teammates did a good job of telling me where he was, where he was going to go or whatever. I just contested high.”
The Pelicans trailed by as many as seven points in the fourth quarter and six with 5:34 remaining. They responded with an 8-0 run to take a 99-97 lead on a three-point play by Davis with 3:58 left. Westbrook then tied the score before his ill-fated turnover.
“That just shows how good of a defender Jrue is on ball,” Davis said. “Knowing that Russ is very aggressive, he came up with a great steal, and I just tried to run the floor and help him. I saw him pitch it to me, and I just tried to go finish.”
Westbrook led the Thunder with 29 points and eight assists. Jackson added 19 points off the bench.
Still, that output was not enough to overcome Davis, who scored 21 of his points and had seven rebounds in the first half to help the Pelicans take a 53-48 lead at halftime.
At that point, it was clear this was not the same New Orleans team from Saturday or even last year.
“That’s what the NBA is about, and that’s what the good teams do,” Pelicans guard Austin Rivers said. “They flush the bad and move on quickly, and I think we did a good job of that tonight. We understand we have mistakes and we did things (Saturday) night that we normally don’t do, but we did a good job letting it go and moving on to the next one.”
It also helped that Davis returned to form, which is more than enough to make the memory of Saturday disappear.
“We had a conversation about, ‘It’s never your fault; it’s about our team. But you come back tomorrow and do your thing and do what you do,’ ” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “He wasn’t his best (Saturday), but he is entitled to that. He has carried us all year long. When you score 38 points on 22 shots and when you play that kind of defense and he had three blocked shots, that kind of stuff is special, and we forgive him.”