The New Orleans Pelicans came into Friday night’s game against the San Antonio Spurs with concerns about consistent play.
Although their ills may not be solved, they have played consistently well against the Spurs, the NBA’s defending champions.
With Anthony Davis getting 22 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks and dominating the third quarter with the game in the balance, the Pelicans fought off the Spurs 97-90 at the Smoothie King Center.
Ryan Anderson scored 22 points for the Pelicans, who posted their fourth win in six games.
“We shared the ball,” coach Monty Williams said. “And a big key for us was keeping them off the glass. They almost shot 50 percent and had one offensive rebound. A number of things that we did well tonight, and a few guys were just special when they needed to be.”
The Pelicans (15-14) won consecutive games in a season against the Spurs (18-13) for the first time since the franchise moved to New Orleans for the 2002-03 season.
Heading into Saturday night’s game at Chicago, New Orleans won by moving the ball, getting 25 assists among its 35 baskets. And even though San Antonio shot 49.3 percent, the Pelicans forced 17 turnovers and scored 20 points off them.
New Orleans won the rebound battle 44-39, but Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said turnovers were the key.
“When you give up 20 points off turnovers on the road, you’re going to have a hard time,” he said. “So we didn’t take care of the ball. We shot the ball well, but we didn’t guard with our feet. We fouled too much, they got free throws and we turned it over too many times.”
Going 21-of-24 on free throws, the Pelicans made more than the Spurs (10-of-14) attempted. That was another key.
Another was the play of Austin Rivers, who had 12 points and five assists. He and Anderson helped the Pelicans outscore the Spurs 45-42 in bench points to back up the starters.
Rivers gave New Orleans a 77-70 lead with a 3-pointer at 9:41 of the fourth quarter. Two minutes later, Anderson sank a 3, then with 6:45 showing, Rivers stole the ball and went coast-to-coast for a hard-driving layup and an 83-72 margin.
The Pelicans defense was creating offense. At that point, New Orleans had 14 field goals on 12 assists in the second half, and the Spurs had six turnovers.
And that was before Tyreke Evans drove and found John Salmons for a corner 3 at 5:25 and an 88-76 lead.
San Antonio came within 93-87 with 44 seconds left on a 3-pointer by point guard Cory Joseph. But with 22.6 seconds showing and the shot clock winding down, Davis drove the lane and passed to Anderson for a dunk, sealing the win.
Davis sparked the Pelicans on both ends in a big third quarter. With New Orleans leading 61-60, he began a sequence that gave the Pelicans control.
He made two free throws, then blocked Manu Ginobili’s driving layup attempt before driving for a basket. When Anderson made a 3-pointer after a missed jumper by Marco Belinelli, the Pelicans led 68-62. In all, Davis blocked three shots in four Spurs possessions.
“We just talked in the timeout,” Williams said. “I thought we were a bit slow. I just talked to the guys on the floor and said, ‘Don’t wait for somebody to do it; one of you guys go do it, just play with great energy.’ After that, (Davis) started blocking shots, rebounding, running the floor. But that’s who he is.”
That stretch had Popovich questioning his team’s wisdom.
“We challenged him four times in a row, unwisely,” Popovich said, “and he drilled it into the seats. Not our smartest moves, I would say.”
The Pelicans took a 48-44 halftime lead, mostly on the strength of a big difference at the free-throw line and outrebounding the Spurs 23-19, including 15-7 in the second quarter.
The Pelicans made 12-of-15 free throws compared to the Spurs’ 3-of-4. They also got into a groove defensively against a revolving door of San Antonio substitutions, scoring seven points off four Spurs turnovers.
New Orleans led 42-39 with 3:03 left in the half before going on a 6-0 run. The highlight play was a rebound by Davis, who dribbled the ball upcourt, then drove left past Duncan for a 48-39 lead with 59 seconds left.