The New Orleans Pelicans were concerned about how to take the Atlanta Hawks out of the splendid rhythm they’ve had during their 19-game winning streak.
The Pelicans showed that the best way was not to let the hot-shooting Hawks get into one.
Continuing their aggressive, physical style of play of late, the Pelicans jumped on the Hawks with gritty defense from the outset on their way to a resounding 115-100 victory Monday night at the Smoothie King Center.
“They had us on our heels from the beginning,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We couldn’t get a rhythm, we couldn’t get as free. I don’t know if the ball moved as well as we’d like, and we weren’t getting as good of looks as we’d like.”
The victory, combined with Phoenix’s loss at home to Memphis, cut the Suns’ lead over the Pelicans to one game for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.
It was the first loss by the Hawks (40-9) since Dec. 26, when they were blown out at home by the Milwaukee Bucks, 107-77.
The win by the Pelicans (26-22) was their 12th this season against a team currently in playoff position, was their sixth win in the past seven games and their fourth in five games on their current homestand. Andit gave them a 1-1 mark this season against Atlanta, which has the best record in the NBA.
Anthony Davis, returning after missing Friday’s big win against the Clippers with a left groin strain, came back strongly with 29 points and 13 rebounds, including eight offensive. He scored 17 points in the first half, when the Pelicans took control.
Guard Eric Gordon had 20 points and seven assists, and for the second consecutive game helped get the Pelicans off to a fast start with two big 3-pointers.
“We’re a good team,” Gordon said. “We know what it takes. They’re a 3-point shooting team; you have to run them off the line. We’re a tough team to beat when we’re attacking and moving the ball.”
Tyreke Evans, playing point guard with Jrue Holiday out, had 15 points but more importantly doled out 12 assists, his fourth time in five games reaching that figure.
That played a big part in the Pelicans’ beating the Hawks at their own game. New Orleans had 29 assists in shooting 50 percent from the field. Atlanta, second in the NBA in assists per game at 26, was held to 19.
And the Pelicans outrebounded the smaller Hawks 52-32, enabling them to stay on the attack. Omer Asik, the Pelicans’ 7-foot, 255-pound center, pulled down 17.
Unlike the first meeting in Atlanta, when the Pelicans scored 28 points in the first half in trailing by 13, New Orleans took a 40-28 lead by 7:04 of the second quarter. The Pelicans led 55-42 at halftime.
“They are not the same team we beat in Atlanta,” said former Louisiana Tech power forward Paul Millsap, an Eastern Conference All-Star. “They made some roster moves. They stayed on the attack and were very aggressive.”
The Pelicans held the Hawks to 37.8 percent in the first half. More startling, Atlanta, which leads the league in 3-point shooting, was 2-of-14 from behind the arc. With Dante Cunningham shadowing Kyle Korver, who leads the NBA in 3-point shooting at 50.0 percent, he did not attempt a 3-pointer. That was a big part of not letting Atlanta get into a rhythm.
“We manipulated our defense to take him out,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “When he hits a 3, it’s like a dunk for their team.”
When the Pelicans ended the third quarter with an 88-74 lead, all that remained was to not blow the 14-point lead in the fourth, as Atlanta had warmed up to 44.4 percent.
When Asik stopped Hawks center Al Horford at the rim with nine minutes left, it led to a Pelicans fast break on which Gordon sank his fourth 3-pointer for a 93-78 lead.
Korver had sunk his first 3 and DeMarre Carroll hit two on the next two possessions, bringing Atlanta to 60-53 at 9:46 of the third.
No worries. Evans took over with five points and six assists in the quarter. And, with Pondexter guarding point guard Jeff Teague, Evans stole the ball and passed to Cunningham on the break for a dunk and a 73-59 bulge at the 6:08 mark.