There was no lack of motivation for the summer Pelicans.
After three consecutive losses, including a pair of last-minute defeats, it was a group eager to prove its last-place seeding in the Las Vegas summer league tournament was not representative of its ability.
And for at least one day, the message was sent. New Orleans tallied the most points in summer league thus far, racking up a 105-95 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in the first game of tournament play Wednesday at Cox Pavilion.
The No. 8-seeded San Antonio Spurs, who received a bye, await New Orleans on Thursday in the second round.
The Pelicans overcame a remarkably sloppy start to post their best game of the summer. A double-digit deficit in the first quarter was the result of surrendering 12 points off turnovers in the first five minutes, allowing Atlanta to reel off a 14-0 run.
But the Pelicans settled down, and they efficiently attacked the rim. New Orleans found creases for dribble-drive opportunities and routinely scored in the paint and at the free-throw line as part of its monumental offensive effort.
Quinn Cook got off to another blazing start, converting seven straight shots, including a pair of 3-pointers in his first 13 minutes on the floor. And arguably more important than Cook’s marksmanship was where it came from.
He showed a proficiency at contributing on and off the ball, proving his ability as a combo guard. It’s a quality he’ll need to continue over the next few months, because coach Alvin Gentry has said he’d like to pair Jrue Holiday next to a guard who can play both positions.
The team's 105-point barrage added to Cook’s already torrid summer stat line. On Wednesday, the 24-year-old tallied 26 points (making 11 of 16 attempts), seven assists and five rebounds, leading all scorers.
“I’ve gotten thrown into the fire, and it’s helped me tremendously,” Cook told NBA TV. “I am just trying to lead these guys, not just with my voice but by my play as well. I’m trying to be the vet of this team.”
Atlanta trimmed the Pelicans’ 18-point lead to seven in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter, but New Orleans regrouped thanks to Cook and Cheick Diallo, who continued to display an impressive two-man game.
Diallo (21 points) finished a pair of three-point plays from the post, to collect his third 20-point game of summer league, he and efficiently made seven of his nine shot attempts.
“We want to go out and win this whole thing,” Cook said Monday. “We just want to shock the world.”