With star power forward Anthony Davis out with a groin strain, the New Orleans Pelicans knew they would need many core players to play well against the Los Angeles Clippers.
With no fewer than five Pelicans in an inspired team performance, they knocked off the Clippers 108-103 on Friday night before a sellout crowd at the Smoothie King Center.
“To get a win like that was great before our fans, because they really helped us in the second half when we were getting stops and knocking down shots,” coach Monty Williams said. “So, it was classic in that we were undermanned and our fans filled in the gap tonight.”
A key to the victory was the Pelicans’ 13-of-25 (52.0 percent) 3-point shooting, which kept the Clippers scrambling defensively and took off the pressure of not having Davis, who averages 24.3 points per game. Los Angeles shot just 7-of-28 from distance.
“Going 13-for-25 for huge for us,” Wiliams said. “All that stuff loosens up teams, and then Tyreke (Evans) can go to the basket, which he does really well.”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said it was the key to the game.
The victory was the fifth in six games for the Pelicans (25-22), including their third in this six-game home stand. It ended a six-game winning streak by the Clippers (32-15), who are fifth in the Western Conference playoff race. The Clippers had beaten New Orleans eight of the previous nine times.
The Pelicans win came through yeoman efforts by guard Eric Gordon, who scored a game-high 28 points, Ryan Anderson, who replaced Davis and had 24 points and nine rebounds, and Evans, who had 11 points and eight rebounds but more importantly 12 assists.
Backup center Alexis Ajinca, getting over 24 minutes with Davis out, responded with 17 points and nine rebounds and helped even things out against the Clippers’ big front line. Dante Cunningham, swinging between both forward positions, had eight points and 12 rebounds.
And, they did what undermanned teams have to do — get 50-50 balls. The Pelicans had 14 offensive rebounds while outrebounding the Clippers 51-38.
“I thought for us to have to a chance we had to play with a great deal of force, and that was evident by a couple of things,” Williams said. “Tyreke’s ability to help our bigs rebound was one thing that was a marker for me as to how hard we played.”
The Pelicans, who shot 23-of-26 on free throws, made their last 17 attempts to salt the game away. No bigger were two by Jimmer Fredette with 17.9 seconds left that gave the Pelicans a 108-103 lead.
It marked the second consecutive home game in which the Pelicans turned back the Clippers while short-handed, including a March 26 win last season in a similar inspired performance, with Gordon also scoring 28 in that one.
“It was just like last year’s game,” Rivers said. “They were without some guys and just played harder than we did.”
Chris Paul scored 10 of the Clippers’ 12 points in a span of exactly two minutes, as Los Angeles drew to 95-94 at 5:07.
However, Gordon, victimized by a steal by Paul during his run, hit a 3-pointer a 4:16 that gave the Pelicans a 98-94 lead. When Dante Cunningham dunked after a pass by Evans, victory was in reach at 104-98 with a minute and half left.
New Orleans had started the third quarter aggressively, particularly with regard to the 3-point line in taking a game-changing 88-76 lead.
The Pelicans shot 5-of-8 on 3s and pounded the boards, beating the Clippers 16-6 in outscoring them 35-22 in the third.
Anderson started it with a 3, and Gordon sank consecutive ones, the second coming after an energy-play long offensive rebound by Cunningham. That gave the Pelicans a 64-56 lead.
After the Clippers came to 68-65 with the help of a steal and layup by Paul and a 3 by Matt Barnes, the Pelicans gained breathing room again with threes by Anderson. The first was a three-point play when he pump-faked Griffin, drew the foul and made the basket. Then, after yet another energy-play offensive rebound by Cunningham, Anderson sank a 3 from behind the arc for a 74-65 margin.
He hit another at the 3:13 mark to push the lead to 12, 81-69.
NOTES: G Austin Rivers, who was traded by the Pelicans to the Boston Celtics on Jan. 12 in the deal that brought G/F Quincy Pondexter to the Pelicans, made his first return to Smoothie King Center. Rivers scored six consecutive points in a 1 minute, 18-second span that gave Los Angeles a 35-32 lead at 8:10 of the first quarter.