Pelicans coach Alvin Genry didn’t shy away from calling this his team’s best performance of a roller-coaster season.
He used phrases like “total team wins," and Jrue Holiday said he was energized “playing for my fans and this city.” The Pelicans' 128-115 victory Saturday at the Smoothie King Center was a gritty, energetic, Dikembe Mutombo finger-wag-filled victory over a visiting Lakers squad with enough of a fan contingent to turn an often lax home crowd into a hostile environment.
“To me right now, these guys understand the most important thing is our team,” Gentry said. “They’re trying to do everything they can to help our team win.”
It was no secret which player on the Pelicans roster — for now, at least — who donned street clothes, sat on the end of the bench and didn’t record a single minute in the name of “rest" after playing all of 20 minutes Friday after a weeklong vacation that included five minutes in the All-Star game.
For once, Gentry didn’t have to utter Anthony Davis' name in a news conference, almost as if the past month of turmoil, possibly instigated by the Lakers, James and the agent he shares with Anthony Davis, didn’t happen.
This win was void of all that bad juju — spare the fervent boos any time James touched the ball and energetic cheers when he clanked a free throw or air-balled a 3-pointer. One of the all-time greats still managed to finish with 27 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds, but Gentry was proud of his team’s ability to keep James as a scorer instead of a facilitator.
The Lakers trailed 69-57 at halftime and fell behind 80-62 when James knocked down a trio of 3-pointers midway through the third quarter to bring Los Angeles within fighting range at 89-79. But Kenrich Williams' defense continued to keep James from wreaking havoc in the paint, and with the third quarter winding down, Holiday’s step-back buzzer-beater boosted the Pelicans back up 100-84.
One night after the Pelicans held a 71-58 halftime lead on the road against the Pacers, only to notch just 40 second-half points in a 126-111 loss, Holiday said it was pleasing to see his team play four complete quarters.
“I feel like we competed the whole game once we jumped on top and got the whole lead,” Holiday said. “We sustained it and came out in the second half and played well, hit big shots, and the crowd was into it, and that helps.”
After the game, Pelicans forward Julius Randle wore a black stocking cap with the phrase "Fake Friends" across the middle. He also said the Pelicans concentrated on maintaining intensity.
“I think it was just a conscious effort,” Randle said. “At halftime, we said we need to have a better second half than we did yesterday.”
Comfortably back in his traditional role at shooting guard with a healthy Elfrid Payton back in the lineup, Holiday added three more 3-pointers in the final quarter, finishing with a team-high 27 points on 5-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc. Randle, facing his former team, followed with 24 points, five assists and three rebounds.
Fresh off a career-high 18 rebounds, Pelicans forward Cheick Diallo nearly notched a back-to-back career night, finishing a point shy a personal-best with 18 points to go with nine rebounds. His pair of second-half blocks on Lakers leading scorer Brandon Ingram (29 points) — and the finger wags and dance moves that followed — said more than any stat sheet or final score could about a group of players that thoroughly enjoyed playing basketball Saturday night.
“I think you can take all the guys that were involved in the game in some stage,” Gentry said. “They did something positive for us.”