The Pelicans got off of the blocks without a hitch.
In the 25-game sprint toward a playoff spot, the Pelicans hit their first step right in stride, earning an 124-123 overtime win over the Miami Heat at the Smoothie King Center on Friday night.
A topsy-turvy final minute came to a close when Jrue Holiday floated in a shot over the outstretched arm of Bam Adebayo with 7.3 seconds left, preceding a Dwyane Wade miss at the buzzer.
It was the Pelicans’ fourth consecutive win and served as a critical start to a finishing kick.
“We are figuring it out,” Ian Clark said. “I think we definitely needed a game like this.”
The combination of Anthony Davis and Holiday helped push the Pelicans over the top in a high-energy, high-flying contest between two teams fighting for the same playoff goal in different conferences.
Davis, the Pelicans’ lone All-Star, spent most of the past week telling the nation what his team needed to do in order to end its two-year drought away from the postseason.
And when he skied toward the basket with his arms fully extended to finish off an alley-oop in overtime, it was a demonstrative and emphatic answer.
Davis eclipsed 40 points for the fourth consecutive game, posting 45 points, 17 rebounds, five blocks and five assists — the first time that stat line has been compiled since at least 1963 — and scored in his typical grab bag fashion to propel his team to a comeback victory.
“It’s just him being great,” Clark said. “That’s what we expect from him. Obviously, we know he’s going to make some tough shots but that’s the kind of stuff we need from him if we are going to win close games.”
He was joined by Holiday, who tallied 10 of his 29 points in a three-minute stretch during the fourth, giving New Orleans its first lead of the night after more than 40 minutes of playing from behind.
However, it wouldn’t be easy. Goran Dragic’s putback helped erase a late six-point lead, prompting overtime.
“I just thought we hung in and hung in,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “I didn’t think we ever got a rhythm going like we are capable of, but I thought this was our best game as far as grinding it out, hanging in and finding a way to win.”
But it was Clark, a backup point guard, who helped change the tenor of the game, scoring 15 second-quarter points en route to a season-best 21 points.
Despite the long layoff, New Orleans failed rev up its defensive energy from the opening tip, allowing baskets on Miami’s first six trips up and down the floor. By the end of the first quarter, the Heat held a 22-6 advantage on points in the paint and stretched the disparity to as high as 42-16 in the first half.
But, the Pelicans clawed back into the interior and controlled the valuable real estate during critical second-half stretches. It helped they were able to saddle prolific shot blocker Hassan Whiteside, who fouled out in the final minutes.
New Orleans entered the night bunched together with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers at 26 losses apeice, marking the most bunched-up playoff race Gentry said he can remember.
The 47-day, 25-game stretch was the most discussed topic of conversation since the Pelicans returned from the break. It created a clear-cut focus and a goal.
And the Pelicans put together strong stretches, highlighted by Davis’ takeover performance, it took a long time to take command of the game.
Now, the Pelicans margin for error is a bit wider and its position on the edge of the playoff chase is a little more comfortable. That’s how each of these final 25, now 24 games, will go.
Each win is meaningful. Each loss is damaging.
But, for New Orleans, it was at least a strong start.
“We just battled knowing both teams are in the same spot right now as far as playoffs and we are both trying to accomplish the same thing,” Davis said. “We just had to play with a lot of energy.”