It wasn’t pretty.
But it counts.
The New Orleans Pelicans committed 21 turnovers and were the subject of several head-scratching moments, but rallied together when it mattered most to post a 115-108 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night in the Smoothie King Center.
Despite fits of sloppiness, the Pelicans locked in late in the fourth quarter, reeling off a pair of runs and rising up defensively to erase a six-point deficit, then powered into the lead during the final minutes.
“It just shows how good we could be if we just cut down on half our turnovers, you know,” DeMarcus Cousins said. “We just have to take care of the ball better and make better decisions. I definitely have to make better decisions with the ball.”
He made one excellent judgement on the ball in the waning minutes.
Off of a missed shot, Cousins leapt into the air and skied over two potential rebounders for an emphatic putback slam, charging the Pelicans’ closing kick. The dunk ignited the home crowd, rousing a once-sleepy Smoothie King Center into a frenzy, and pushed New Orleans into the lead.
E’Twaun Moore followed up with an emphatic slam of his own a few minutes later, gathering a loose ball at midcourt to halt a Bucks’ fast break, and finishing it with a flush to push the Pelicans’ advantage to 112-106.
“I just felt I needed to finish it,” Moore said. “We needed that one.”
In the end, it was Jameer Nelson, who took over point guard duties from Rajon Rondo down the stretch, who sealed the win. Nelson nabbed a crucial steal under the basket, then broke down the defense at the other end, drawing multiple defenders before hitting Cousins for a wide open 3.
Those moments helped the Pelicans erase a series of early game mishaps, not allowing the errors to sink them.
“I don’t want to try to win games with 21 turnovers,” coach Alvin Gentry said.
Equally important, Anthony Davis returned to the lineup after a one-game absence, just his third outing in the past two weeks after suffering an adductor strain. And he contributed greatly, energizing the Pelicans on both ends of the floor, scoring 25 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
He even morphed into a guard briefly in the second quarter, first driving the lane to draw defenders before kicking out to Darius Miller for a wide open 3-pointer. Then, a possession later, his quick-twitch crossover freed him to bury a midrange jumper.
It proved, although he’s been in and out of the lineup, Davis can still rely on his athleticism and create his own shot. And he admitted to waiving off the minutes restriction put in place for him at some point in the fourth quarter, claiming he was healthy enough to finish.
“I wasn’t doing that again,” Davis said.
The Pelicans’ red-hot offense has been the NBA’s second-best since the month began, thanks largely to a rejuvenated backcourt.
But New Orleans’ defense has suffered in its wake. The Pelicans tallied the league’s worst defensive efficiency over the past nine games, and it didn’t get any better off of the jump on Wednesday.
Milwaukee scored 22 of its 37 first-quarter points in the paint, routinely driving into unoccupied space underneath the basket to find easy looks. It was precisely what the Pelicans’ were warned about entering the night.
However, New Orleans gathered itself defensively, allowing just 45 points in the second half, cracking down on the Bucks’ potent offensive attack.
“I think that’s what it comes down to,” Cousins said. “Where the NBA is now, it’s about high scoring games and I think teams are shying away from the defensive aspect of the game and trying to outscore one another. So if you can score at a decent rate and also get stops, you’re pretty good.”
Yet it was the Pelicans offense that carried the day, converting 56.3 percent of their field goals and ensuring the turnovers turned out not to be fatal mistakes.
Instead, New Orleans was able to walk off its home floor a winner, raising its overall and home record to a game better than .500, a critical benchmark as the team departs on a four-game road trip.
“We hate to lose, but we know any point in time if you lose two or three, you can go from sixth place to 12th,” Davis said. “We just try to take these losses and bounce back from them and learn from them.”