Just when it appeared things were falling into place, the New Orleans Pelicans were blindsided.
Not only did the Pelicans get Anthony Davis back from his weeklong injury absence, but they won two of three games without him, and held a nine-point lead in the final three minutes of a sleepy Friday night affair in the Smoothie King Center.
Then it all caved in.
“We got control of the game and then we screwed around,” coach Alvin Gentry said.
The last-place Sacramento Kings refused to go away, repeatedly clipping at the Pelicans heels before eventually catching them on a Buddy Hield 3-pointer which sent the game into overtime, where they would pull away for a 116-109 victory.
“I don’t think we had a sense of urgency the entire night,” said DeMarcus Cousins, who poured in a game-high 38 points against his former team. “We just kind of coasted through this game. We gave this team life. We had plenty of opportunities to put the game away and we just wouldn’t put our foot on that pedal full throttle.”
It was a slow-developing calamity for the Pelicans, whose offense stagnated and defense broke down entirely, as the Kings controlled the final stanza of the game.
Zach Randolph scored six of his 35 points in overtime, burying a pair of critical 3-pointers to lift the Kings, and send the Pelicans into a series of self-reflecting questions as they lost for fifth time in seven games. New Orleans held a double-digit lead in the second half during four of those defeats.
“If we want to be the team we are talking about being, you have to come out and do it and come out and show it,” Cousins said. “You just can’t continue to talk about it. It shows. Tonight, we weren’t the team we wanted to be. We have to come out and compete every night.”
Davis made his return to the lineup, recovering from a strained left adductor. But, New Orleans still wasn’t at full strength, choosing to rest veteran point guard Rajon Rondo with the Pelicans scheduled to play three games over a four-day stretch.
Without Rondo, New Orleans fell into bouts of sloppiness surrendering 17 turnovers that Sacramento turned into 22 points. Ian Clark performed well in his spot start, allowing just one turnover and chipping in a season-best 15 points on eight shots to balance out the Pelicans’ scoring.
However, Clark was nowhere to be found as the game slipped away, with coach Alvin Gentry opting to use Jameer Nelson and E’Twaun Moore in the backcourt alongside Jrue Holiday.
Meanwhile, Davis appeared to be out of rhythm in the early going. The one week layoff forced Gentry to limit Davis’ minutes (expected to be 25, but he played 31), shortening his rotations.
But Davis discovered his groove midway through the fourth, scoring a quick eight points to carry the Pelicans’ offense, growing the lead to 100-91 in the final three minutes, 23 seconds. Then, he went silent, rarely touching the ball on offense and failing to even attempt a shot for the remainder of the night.
Davis declined to speak to the media after the game.
New Orleans is now 6-7 at home, and will have to rally before facing the Philadelphia 76ers and Houston Rockets on consecutive nights, starting Sunday.
It only makes this one sting worse.
“You either want it or you don’t, that’s the bottom line,” Gentry said in a heated postgame press conference, which he abruptly ended. “You either want to be good or you don’t. Or you can do what we did. But you have to do it for 48 minutes. Every team we play is an NBA team.
“Every team we play is very competitive and they want to win games. Just because their record is what it is, we’re supposed to take for granted they’re not going to play?”