Anthony Davis was right. He was certain of that.
When the Pelicans forward caught an earful first from Kendrick Perkins and then from coach Alvin Gentry for not pursuing a rebound in Saturday’s win at Dallas, he was defiant. The ball had not been his to chase, and he was not, as Gentry would later describe it, “coasting” for parts of the game.
“I felt like they were wrong,” Davis said. “But we watched the film, and I was wrong. Sometimes that has to happen to get guys going.”
It worked on Davis, and Gentry’s willingness to read his star player the riot act could be an important component as the Pelicans try to right their season after a rocky start.
“That’s how you get credibility in this league as a coach,” Pelicans guard Norris Cole said. “The top coaches are tough on everybody, including star players. They always say it starts at the top. Coach is consistent. It doesn’t matter who you are. If he feels he needs to get on you, he’ll get on you.”
He got on Davis on Saturday primarily, Davis said, over a specific rebounding opportunity against the Mavericks, who visit the Smoothie King Center on Wednesday.
As Davis remembers it, Pelicans center Omer Asik had slid over to help defensively against a driving Dirk Nowitzki, who missed a layup, and the Mavericks’ Zaza Pachulia grabbed an offensive rebound.
In a timeout, Perkins made it clear to Davis that he should have pursued the ball, and when Davis disagreed, Gentry backed up Perkins. Loudly, to hear Davis tell it.
It didn’t take long for the pep talk to take effect. Davis chased down a loose ball soon after the timeout and made it clear to Gentry and Perkins that he was properly motivated.
“The ball was going out of bounds, and I saved it for Norris,” Davis said. “I looked at both of them and said, ‘That’s one rebound!’ And for the next three rebounds I said, ‘That’s another one!’”
Gentry didn’t give a second thought to criticizing his best player. Though heated critiques of a star can be delicate balancing acts, Gentry said that’s never been a problem for him.
The coach isn’t a believer in general criticism, he said. Gentry won’t say “We have to rebound better” rather than single out a specific player, he said.
“When you say, ‘We’re not doing something,’ they always think you’re talking to the guy next to them,” Gentry said. “It’s never them. It’s always the guy next to them. I just think you got to be very specific in what you’re saying.”
But that doesn’t mean Gentry, who has coached in the NBA since 1989, treats every player exactly the same. He’ll criticize anyone on the roster, but the setting isn’t always the same.
“I’ve had guys that I would not yell (at) in a team situation, and there’s a couple of guys here that I would not confront in a team situation, because I think they’re much better served doing it in private and pointing it out that way,” Gentry said. “As a coach, you’ve got to get to a point where you understand who you can do that with and who you can’t.”
Davis is comfortable with Gentry and his approach. On Tuesday as Gentry discussed it with reporters, Davis lingered behind the media horde, dangling a small stuffed bunny overhead to get a laugh out of Gentry. Davis said Saturday that he and Gentry have a strong relationship.
“I don’t want a coach who plays favoritism, who doesn’t say anything to (a player) because of whoever he is but gets on a guy who — I don’t want to say is nobody, but is not on the level of that star player,” Davis said Tuesday. “(Gentry) gets on everybody: coaches, players. He doesn’t care who it is.”
And Davis responded to the heat Saturday, finishing with 31 points and 15 rebounds.
“He stepped up and dominated the game,” Gentry said. “I would be doing him a disservice if I didn’t get on him when the time came for him to improve.”