Anthony Davis didn’t hesitate.
The All-NBA forward, who built a reputation as one the league’s premiere players thanks to piling up gaudy numbers, reflexively knows what’s best for the New Orleans Pelicans isn’t necessarily what’s best for his stat line.
“Oh, for sure, for sure,” Davis quickly responded when asked whether the Pelicans’ offense is at their best when the scoring is balanced. “They have to key in on multiple guys, not just one or two but three and sometimes more. So, it’s hard for defenses to contain all of us when we are playing for each other and moving the ball.”
It rang true in Saturday’s 111-104 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, when Davis (21), DeMarcus Cousins (24) and Jrue Holiday (27) posted similar scoring totals, each taking over for different stretches of the game.
They’ll try to repeat the performance on Monday at 7 p.m. when the Pelicans host the Chicago Bulls at the Smoothie King Center.
The Pelicans’ latest offensive evolution was the result of Memphis choosing to play three big men in the second half of Saturday’s win, not allowing New Orleans to get a guard switched onto Davis or Cousins in screen-and-roll situations.
“You’re going to see that when you have two big guys averaging 50 points between them,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “Everybody is going to game plan to take them out of the game. … If I was an opponent, I’d try to take those guys away, too.”
After New Orleans built a 34-18 lead in the first quarter, fueled by Davis’ 13 points and team 17 free-throw attempts, the Grizzlies opted to pack the paint and force someone else to beat them.
Sure enough, there was Holiday.
He scored 21 in the second half, including 13 in the fourth quarter, continually taking advantage of the mismatch Memphis allowed by concentrating on Davis and Cousins. In fact, Davis took just two shots in the entire second half, choosing to serve as a facilitator, decoy and space-creator for Holiday.
“You’ve got to understand one thing, the guy got 45 points in two straight games last week,” Gentry said of Davis. “So, when everybody is watching tape, they’ll say ‘How do we take this guy out of the game?’ And they don’t worry about anything else. They worry about how to take him out and the way to do it is put two guys there so he doesn’t have any room to operate or freedom to get his shot off.
“When that happens he’s willing to pass it and move and get a shot off for other guys. And there’s not a better guy to do that than AD, because he’s going to do whatever it takes to win.”
It’s another example of Holiday’s importance in the Pelicans’ scheme.
While Davis and Cousins are starting in the All-Star Game and garner the wide majority of Pelicans’ headlines, Holiday is quietly putting together the best season of his career. On the heels of signing a five-year, $125 million contract, the guard is hitting his peak during his ninth NBA season.
Holiday credits the space and freedom afforded to him by Cousins and Davis, allowing him to average 18.8 points while shooting 50 percent from the field.
“Jrue has been incredible,” Cousins said. “He took a lot of heat in the beginning of the year and he just stuck with it. He remained solid throughout it all. He worked his tail off and now he's playing some of the best basketball of his life. You've got to appreciate guys like that. We knew, eventually, it would come around; he's found his stride and he's been incredible."
But, ultimately, it all comes back to taking what opposing defenses are willing to give up, continually finding the weak spots as the Pelicans’ abilities grow from game-to-game.
“When guys key in on me, it’s my job to make the other guys better,” Davis said, while conducting an interview in front of Holiday’s locker on Saturday.
And, taking a page from Davis, Holiday chimed in.
“That’s the unselfishness our team really feeds off of,” Holiday said. “That’s what makes him a leader, obviously.”