Anthony Davis had a few simple words for the trainers who were administering his IV fluids during the middle of the Pelicans’ game against the Nuggets.
“I tried to tell them, ‘You’ve got to pump it faster so I can get back on the floor,’” Davis said.
The Pelicans’ young superstar had buried a top-of-the-key jump shot 15 seconds into the game Sunday night, kicking off a blazing streak of 19 first-quarter points that included buckets of every variety.
Davis was on fire. Then he was gone.
The 22-year-old big man had been sick all day, and coach Alvin Gentry wasn’t even sure his best player would suit up. Davis managed to play, scorch the nets, then leave the game with one minute left in the first quarter, not returning until eight minutes were left in the game.
That return came just in time. Davis scored eight more fourth-quarter points and came up with four huge blocks to help the Pelicans rally for a 130-125 victory over the Nuggets, putting a strange but strong end to a 2-3 road trip.
“He was huge,” Pelicans guard Eric Gordon said of Davis, who finished with 27 points in 19 minutes. “When we really needed him most was those two blocks at the end of the game. He really helped us solidify the win with those.”
For 11 blitzing minutes, it was the Nuggets who were left queasy trying futilely to defend Davis as he jab-stepped into midrange jumpers, threw down a pair of thunderous lob dunks and floated in an impressive baseline runner. He made 7-of-9 shots in the opening quarter and was 5-of-5 from the free-throw line to lift New Orleans to a 36-31 lead.
Davis appeared determined to carry the Pelicans after attempting just three first-half shots in Friday’s lopsided loss to Phoenix.
“I gave it all in that first quarter and then I couldn’t go anymore,” said Davis, who said he had four total IVs on Sunday, two before the game. “I just tried to come back in and do whatever I could to help the team.”
Without Davis, the Pelicans were initially out of sorts, particularly on the defensive end. The Nuggets hit 9-of-15 shots from 3-point range on the way to a 74-67 halftime lead. It was Denver’s highest-scoring first half of the season.
Still, the Pelicans (8-19) managed to produce plenty of their own offense in a game that had more than enough of it to go around. A 15-2 run in the third quarter keyed by 3-pointers from Ryan Anderson, Gordon and Tyreke Evans, helped the Pelicans turn a seven-point halftime deficit into an 89-82 lead.
From there it was an up-and-down battle with neither team able to produce many defensive stops.
Davis picked up right where he left off when he finally returned, burying two midrange jumpers to cut Denver’s lead to 109-108. Will Barton, who scored 16 fourth-quarter points for Denver, hit a 3-pointer two possessions later to put the Nuggets back up six, but they couldn’t pull away.
The Pelicans rallied again, with Jrue Holiday hitting a 3-pointer to put New Orleans up 119-116 and Davis coming up with four blocks down the stretch, including two in the final minute.
“They were really big plays because it makes it a one-possession game if that ball goes in,” Gentry said.
Sunday marked the second time this season Davis exited a game against the Nuggets early. At the Smoothie King Center on Nov. 18, he suffered a shoulder injury six minutes into the first quarter and never returned in a loss that dropped New Orleans to 1-10.
This time, the Pelicans tread water with their star gone. Holiday and Evans scored 21 points apiece, with Gordon adding 20.
But it was Davis who came up with the biggest plays on a night he couldn’t have felt much worse.
“I just tried to play hard,” Davis said. “I’m just glad we got the win. We’ve got to continue to move forward.”