The measuring stick was within arm’s reach.
And, in the potential snap of a left Achilles tendon, it may have been yanked away.
The Pelicans bounced the red-hot Houston Rockets 115-113, injecting a jolt of energy into the Smoothie King Center. It even added a dose of imagination into the Pelicans’ possible placement in the Western Conference playoff race, capable of playing with the league’s best.
But, when All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins lunged and leapt for a loose ball, he hit the floor with a thud. Minutes later he was carried off the court in the game’s final minute, casting a pall onto what should’ve been the Pelicans’ biggest celebration.
Coach Alvin Gentry confirmed Cousins injured his Achillies but was unable to define the severity after the game. Cousins will undergo and MRI to determine the injury.
Sources indicated the team expected the MRI to reveal a tear, which would cost Cousins the remainder of the season.
“He’s extremely important to us, so, yeah, we are scared about it,” Gentry said. “And, I feel horrible for him. Everything he’s done and what he’s tried to do for us and the improvements he’s made as a player, on and off the court, has just been great. So, I don’t want that to happen to a guy who is trying to better himself.
“I hope it’s not anything that severe, but when it’s an Achillies, you never know. All of our guys feel terrible about it.”
Just moments before the injury, Cousins put the finishing touches on his second triple-double in the past three games, grabbing an offensive rebound and finishing a putback to ignite the arena by earning a four-point lead. It would provide the ultimate difference.
It was an electric touch to the Pelicans’ hottest stretch of the season, polishing off their seventh in over the past eight games.
But there was no jubilation to be found in the Pelicans’ locker room.
“We were just getting it,” Anthony Davis said in a somber Pelicans’ locker room. “We were just figuring everything out. That’s the tough part. Like I said, we just have to keep going and keep finding a way to win.”
The Rockets are an NBA championship contender and the Pelicans are still striving to get there. And for a fleeting moment, it appeared New Orleans could stand on the same ground.
For the second time this season, New Orleans jumped out to a big lead on these Rockets, but this time, with Anthony Davis and his 27 points in tow, they were able to hang on when it mattered most.
New Orleans got off a hot start offensively, taking 66-53 halftime lead and grew it to 20 by midway through the third quarter by attacking the Rockets in the paint and routinely feeding Davis and Cousins.
And it started from the jump. Davis attempted a franchise-record 15 shots in the first quarter alone and posted 20 first-half points thanks to crisp passing that put him in prime position.
The Pelicans dished 24 assists in the first 24 minutes, more than doubling-up the Rockets and setting the tone.
Meanwhile, Houston converted just three of their first 18 attempts from beyond the arc, unable to find any space offensively with Cousins clogging the lane and Davis successfully closing out on shooters with his lengthy wingspan.
Perhaps no moment summed up the Rockets’ frustration than midway through the third quarter, when MVP frontrunner James Harden was left all alone on the wing. The guard set his feet, launched undefended and missed the goal and rim entirely for an airball.
But, the Rockets wouldn’t go away. Houston steadily chopped into the Pelicans’ advantage, eventually tying it in the final two minutes.
It provided a measure of validation to one of the largest crowds of the season, which stood in appreciation as the final minutes ticked away. And the Pelicans’ earned it on Friday, tallying their most meaningful win since the final day of the 2014-15 regular season.
But, in the end, the night ended on the sourest of notes. And this pyrrhic victory provided a glimpse of what might have been, rather than what’s left to come.
“We just have to keep going,” Davis said. “That’s all we can do. It was a great win, but, we don’t know what’s going to happen with DeMarcus. We can’t keep our heads down and pray. We just have to move on to the next game on Sunday and try to do the same thing.”