Square the New Orleans Pelicans All-Star power couple against the triple threat of the Oklahoma City Thunder and receive exactly what Monday concocted at the Smoothie King Center: An All-Star-on-All-Star highlight montage on hyperdrive.
In their first of three meetings with the Thunder this season, the Pelicans' power duo of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins steered New Orleans to a 114-107 win, outdoing Oklahoma City's troublesome trio of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.
In their ninth win this season, the Pelicans were far from flawless.
"We found a way to come away with a win against a really good team," said Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry.
But thanks once again to Davis and Cousins, New Orleans earned its most substantial Western Conference win against OKC, a superstar haven for three of the West’s best.
"Today put the stamp on how we need to win ball games, and that's on the defensive end," said Tony Allen, who returned to play 18 minutes Monday after missing four games with left knee inflammation.
The Pelicans improved to 9-8 without their leading scorer visible in the arena when it mattered most.
Cousins, the NBA’s fifth-leading scorer prior to Monday, sliced through the Thunder interior for 18 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Then some controversy, which tends to surround Cousins and his edgy on-floor personality.
Cousins was ejected in the third quarter for a Flagrant-2 foul, given to the NBA’s most egregious offenses of “unnecessary and excessive contact committed by a player,” per the league's rules. After snagging his final rebound, Cousins contacted Westbrook’s head/neck with an elbow the league deemed worthy of ejection.
Cousins left the Smoothie King Center before speaking to the media, making him unavailable for comment following Monday’s game.
New Orleans trailed by as many as 19 in the first quarter, but rallied to a 65-57 deficit at halftime. New Orleans led by just two points once in the second quarter and edged an 87-86 lead with three quarters completed.
"They made a bunch of shots early on," Gentry said. "What you've got to understand is that the NBA is a really, really long game."
Davis made his 16th start Monday after suffering a head injury that forced him to exit Friday’s game at Denver. He scored 36 points — including shooting 18 for 22 from the free-throw line, a season high — and gathered 15 rebounds in 45 minutes, looking like the All-NBA, uninjured version of himself.
On the other end of the floor, Westbrook clubbed the Pelicans for his fifth triple double this season — 22 points with 16 rebounds and 12 assists. Paul George posted 26 points and Carmelo Anthony had 19.
The freshly-united trio in Oklahoma City contributed their fair share, but it wasn’t enough against a Pelicans team with five players finishing in double-figure scoring.
New Orleans surely stumbled. But instead of being knocked out by the Thunder's 1-2-3 combo early, the Pelicans responded in kind — like they planned.
"We know they're No. 1 in the league as far as first quarter starts, and second quarter,” Pelicans point guard Rajon Rondo said Monday morning. "We've got to look to get them off to a slow start and us off to a fast start tonight.”
That didn't happen, but New Orleans countered unlike it had all season, much to the delight of the Cousins-less Smoothie King Center filled with 16,765 vocal viewers.
The Pelicans pulled off a win unlike any New Orleans has had this season, one that’s capable of brewing confidence in a team which once trailed by nearly 20 points against one of the conference’s superpowers.