The New Orleans Pelicans wanted to get off to a fast start. Anthony Davis is a good place to start.
With his team languishing, Davis’ spark turned into a blaze, finishing with an historic performance, and the Pelicans won their season opener against the Orlando Magic, 101-84, on Tuesday at Smoothie King Center.
Davis had 26 points, 17 rebounds and nine blocks. According to Elias Sports Bureau, he is the only player in the league to have those statistics in a season-opener since 1973, when blocks became an official statistic. He had 10 points in the third quarter, single-handedly keeping the Pelicans ahead until forward Ryan Anderson finished the quarter off with a torrid display of shooting.
“Coach (Monty Williams) and I talked, and he told me I’m at my best when I’m all over the place,” Davis said. “That’s what I tried to do, bring energy.
“Our guards were driving to the basket, so their bigs were trying to block the shots, and that allowed us to get a lot of offensive rebounds. It was a good win, but we know we have to correct some mistakes.”
Davis and center Omer Asik – who also had 17 rebounds – combined for 34 rebounds, 40 points and 14 blocks. The Pelicans scored a whopping 64 points in the lane, getting 26 offensive rebounds that led to 32 second-chance points. Their performances overshadowed 23 rebounds and 15 points by Magic center Nikola Vucevic.
The victory was New Orleans’ first in a season-opener at home since 2010 against the Milwaukee Bucks. New Orleans had lost its past two openers, both at home – to Indiana last season and to San Antonio in 2012. New Orleans won the 2011 opener at Phoenix.
New Orleans’ impressive showing came in the professional debut of former Ehret High School and Louisiana-Lafayette standout Elfrid Payton. Payton, the 10th pick in June’s draft, had four points, seven assists and five rebounds.
After struggling in the first half with their shooting, the Pelicans came alive near the end of the third quarter. Davis seemed to get New Orleans going with his relentless rebounding and defense, keeping the Pelicans ahead 64-61 with two free throws after rebounding a missed floater by Jimmer Fedette with 2:06 showing.
However, Anderson scored 12 of the Pelicans final 14 points of the quarter. He ended it with a bang, sinking three consecutive 3-pointers, the last two on the fast break with 27.5 seconds left and at the buzzer, as the Pelicans went into the fourth quarter with a 78-64 lead.
“My job is to keep shooting,” said Anderson, who was 3-of-13 before making those final five shots in the third. “I got open shots. It wasn’t like I created them. The guys were driving, Austin (Rivers) found me on the fast break.”
After that, there was no way the Pelicans were letting go of this one, not with the players stressing all week the importance of getting off to a good start after last season’s injury-ravaged 34-48 campaign. When the Magic tried to begin making a run, Eric Gordon willed in a drive for an 83-72 lead at 8:51 and that sent the Pelicans on their way to closing it out.
The Pelicans had overcome 3-of-14 free-throw shooting and misfiring 1-of-9 on 3-point tries to lead by seven at halftime – 48-41.
New Orleans more than made up for its poor marksmanship by getting 17 offensive rebounds, six by Asik, who had 11 of the Pelicans’ 33 rebounds in the first half.
The Pelicans combined that with determined defense, holding Orlando to 14-of-41 shooting (34.1 percent), including 5-of-19 in the second quarter.
That helped New Orleans get its fast break going, and when it wasn’t missing free throws and 3s, the Pelicans shot a respectable 21-of-45 (46.7 percent). With the running game going, Davis and Asik feasted on the boards, getting 20 rebounds between them, including 10 offensive rebounds.
Orlando led 34-32 at 6:58 of the second quarter but were outscored 16-7 the rest of the way as the Pelicans’ defense continued to tighten. Davis was put on Vuvcevic and not only did a good job of denying entering passes with his length and quickness but kept him off the offensive glass with his activity. Vucevic, who scored 10 points in the firsr quarter, had one in the second, although he did grab seven rebounds in the second.
Payton, mostly trying to set up teammates, shot just 1-of-5 in the half but had five assists. However, his counterpart, the Pelicans’ Jrue Holiday, was just 1-of-4 with two assists.
Payton was a surprise starter, with Coach Jacque Vaughn having indicated before the game that Luke Ridnour, and 11-year veteran would be in the lineup at point guard although Payton played more minutes in the preseason than any of the Magic.
Payton had a rocky start. His shot was blocked twice in the first quarter – by Holiday on an attempted reverse layup and by Asik on a drive to the left side of the basket. However, he had a steal and long pass to Harris for a dunk that tied the score at 11.