SALT LAKE CITY — Taking over games is fast becoming a trademark for Anthony Davis.
It has reached the point where teammates and coaches believe there is nothing Davis can’t do on both ends of the court. No one would argue with that conclusion after the forward found all sorts of ways to put his stamp on Saturday night’s game against the Utah Jazz.
Davis scored a career-high 43 points and collected 14 rebounds to lead New Orleans to a 106-94 victory. The Jazz simply could not figure out how to stop him. Davis shot 16-of-23 from the field and 11-of-12 from the line.
His aggressive play helped the Pelicans charge out to a 19-point lead in the third quarter and then hold off Utah’s attempted rally later in the quarter.
“He never lost his rhythm,” New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. “He’d come out of the game and come right back and get right back into it again. We know he’s a special player who’s just starting to scratch the surface.”
The Pelicans needed a big game from Davis to offset 31 points and eight rebounds from Utah forward Gordon Hayward and a season-high 20 points from Jazz guard Trey Burke.
Davis accepted his responsibility to shoulder the load with enthusiasm. He knows his teammates have come to count on him to get a quick start and play aggressively. And he did exactly that by scoring all over the place, from throwing down alley oop dunks to draining midrange jumpers.
“All of our guards did a great job of finding me and making sure I got the ball in my sweet spot,” Davis said. “Then it was my job to knock them down. It was a testament to my team. They know I try to get going early, so they give me the ball — knowing they’re going to have a lot of shots during the course of the game.”
It made a difference in helping New Orleans start strong. Davis hit all five shots and all four free throws he attempted during the second quarter. He had 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting in the first-half alone. His final basket before halftime capped a 17-5 run to give the Pelicans a 56-38 lead with 1:44 remaining in the half.
Utah eventually made a second-half run and trimmed the lead to 77-72 on four free throws from Hayward in the final minute of the third quarter.
New Orleans closed the door on the comeback in the fourth quarter. Starting with a Jrue Holiday 3-pointer and ending in a driving dunk from Davis, the Pelicans put together a 10-2 run to take an 87-74 lead with 9:28 remaining.
Every time Utah threatened a rally, Davis came up with a clutch basket or two to snuff out the comeback attempt.
“Obviously, he’s going to surprise us,” said Holiday, who finished with 19 points and nine assists. “Obviously, he does not have a ceiling, so it’s fun to watch and fun to be a part of.”
The immediate benefit is splitting four games in a tough Western Conference road trip. The long-term benefit is seeing Davis take yet another step forward with his basketball abilities.
If this is a precursor to what’s ahead for the Pelicans, it’s a safe bet Davis will be helping New Orleans torment plenty of more teams offensively this season.
“I told him at the end I don’t take that for granted,” Williams said. “A guy who can go for 43 and 14 off of a back-to-back — to have that kind of energy, it was a special night for him.”