The New Orleans Pelicans already knew that making the Western Conference playoffs would not be easy.
They learned that first-hand in a 118-111 double-overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night at the Smoothie King Center.
The loss, coming despite a spectacular performance from star forward Anthony Davis, dropped the Pelicans (36-30) a game behind the Oklahoma City Thunder in the battle for the eighth and final spot in the playoffs. The Thunder defeated visiting Chicago earlier Sunday.
“It sucks,” small forward Quincy Pondexter said. “We’ll be mad until our next game (Tuesday vs. Milwaukee). It’s a tough loss.”
It came in spite of Davis’ gigantic night. He had 36 points, 14 rebounds, nine blocked shots and a career-high seven assists — a combination of statistics that had not been achieved in an NBA game in the past 30 years.
The suddenly spry Nuggets (26-41) won for the sixth time in eight games under new coach Melvin Hunt by outscoring the Pelicans 66-48 in the lane. Nineteen Pelicans turnovers were part of it, but so were drives to the basket by quick Nuggets guards Ty Lawson, Jameer Nelson and Will Barton.
“That’s in our DNA,” said Hunt, a Tallulah native. “We’re going to create problems for teams by trying to get in the paint and making them collapse, then making shots.”
With 16 games to go, the loss ended a three-game winning streak by the Pelicans, who had won nine of their previous 11. It also gave Denver the season series 3-1. And it was a head-scratching 13th setback against an opponent with a losing record or not in a playoff spot.
“We had turnovers for 27 points,” coach Monty Williams said. “That right there sums up the game. And our defense in the second (29 points) and fourth quarters (30) were not very good. (But) it’s not a death sentence. We’ve got practice (Monday). We all feel bad about it, but it can’t be a tragedy.”
Appearing to be out of gas, the Pelicans went 1-of-8 in the second overtime, the lone basket coming with 1:19 remaining in the five-minute period on a drive by Tyreke Evans.
Denver power forward Kenneth Faried, known for his energy, had put back a missed shot at 3:29 to give the Nuggets a 111-109 lead. After both teams missed a total of four shots, forward Danilo Gallinari sank a 3-pointer after the Nuggets inbounded the ball, pushing the margin to 114-109 at 1:32.
Evans, who had 25 points and 10 assists playing on a sprained left ankle, drove 13 seconds later, cutting the margin to three. Then, with 27.2 seconds left, Eric Gordon threw the ball away cross-court. Fouled intentionally, Gallinari sank two free throws, sealing the outcome.
The Pelicans were 14.2 seconds from victory, leading 109-106 in the first overtime after Gordon sank a left-handed floater in the lane that beat the shot-clock buzzer. But Gallinari, posting up 15 feet from the basket, passed behind the 3-point line to Barton, who hit the tying shot with 8.6 seconds left.
“(The play) was originally for me to fake up and then go to the corner,” said Barton, who scored a team-high 25 points off the bench. “(The Pelicans) denied it. Then they tried to double-team (Gallinari). I faked, and my man bit, and I just had the courage to knock it down.”
Evans then missed a three-footer against Denver’s shot-blockers, sending the game to a second overtime.
The Nuggets’ guard trio combined for 62 points, 18 assists and eight of the team’s 10 3-pointers.
The score was tied at 101 at the end of regulation. Davis missed a 21-foot shot at the buzzer after an out-of-bounds play that began with 2.9 seconds left.
New Orleans had taken a 101-99 lead on Davis’ 20-footer over Faried with 12.2 seconds to go. But Faried scored a layup with 4.3 seconds left off a drive and pass by Lawson.
The Pelicans trailed 93-89 before Evans hit a 3 with 2:51 left, then drove on the next possession for a 94-93 lead. There were then two lead changes and three ties, sending the game to the extra period.