New York Knicks coach David Fizdale marched out three rookies in his starting lineup Friday night for the first time this season, searching for some youthful energy from his 4-11 squad that had gone 1-5 in its past six games.
New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry, whose team beat one of the best teams in the league on the road earlier this week and had its his lineup back to full-strength, warned his team of overlooking the young, scrappy Knicks.
“They’ve got a bunch of young guys, and when you play games like this, those young guys have an opportunity,” he said. “They want to establish themselves in the league right away.
“All they want to do is show everybody they belong, and you’ve got to be ready to play in a game like this.”
The Knicks brought a mighty scare, but the Pelicans and their experienced starters led a valiant charge late, slowly chipping away at a 32-16 first-quarter deficit. Led by Anthony Davis’ season-high 43 points, New Orleans stole back the lead late and prevailed 129-124 at the Smoothie King Center. The win marked the team’s third-largest comeback in franchise history.
Davis led five Pelicans in double figures, shooting 16 for 25 from the field and 10 for 15 from the free-throw line. He also snagged 17 rebounds.
"It's tough to always be playing uphill and have to have a perfect game. If we want to beat the great teams, they're not going to let us come back like that," Davis said. "It felt like a grind. Usually, when I have those numbers, we're up 10, 15, 20, but I just tried to keep us in the game and take over when I needed."
Elfrid Payton returned to the Pelicans lineup after missing nine games with a right ankle injury, but he exited again in the first quarter after playing just eight minutes with a fractured small finger on his left hand.
The Knicks sprinted out to a double-digit lead in the game's first seven minutes, sparked by seven Pelicans turnovers and not enough New Orleans energy on the defensive end. It added up to four Knicks 3-pointers in the first 12 minutes. Trey Burke, who came off the bench for 24 points, knocked down a floater in the opening minute of the second to push the lead to 18.
But after scoring just a single bucket in the game’s first 12 minutes, Davis turned to his length advantage in the paint and kept the Pelicans within striking distance. The 6-foot-10 forward created five 3-point opportunities in the second quarter alone, completing four of them, en route to 21 points in the period on 7-of-9 shooting from the charity stripe. Though they cut it down to seven multiple times, the Pelicans trailed by 10 at the break.
With New Orleans still trailing by double digits, Davis helped cut it to three with a personal 7-0 run in the third quarter. But the Knicks, led by a pair of 3-pointers from Tim Hardaway Jr., ratcheted it back up to eight at 96-88 with 12 minutes to go.
With much of their front court in foul trouble, the Knicks marched out a small lineup for the early fourth quarter, allowing the Pelicans' length and aggression in the paint to slowly chip away at the deficit. Then, Darius Miller’s 3-pointer ignited a 9-0 New Orleans run with 5:01 left. Though New York pushed it back to six, Davis slammed home an alley-oop from Jrue Holiday that brought the crowd to its feet moments later.
Davis missed a 3-pointer, but Julius Randle threw down a put back, then made a pair of free throws the next trip down to give the Pelicans their first lead of the game, 120-119. Still up one, 122-121, with 1:28 left, Davis stepped up to the line, but missed a pair of free throws.
Before the second, Randle, who finished with 19 points, made a point to switch with Holiday from the paint to beyond the arc. Out of nowhere, the 6-foot-9 forward came flying for the offensive rebound and the put-back, giving New Orleans a three-point lead and all the momentum.
"He told me he was going to do it," Holiday said. "When he's like that, I don't know who's stopping him. I'm glad he's on my side."
Holiday drained a three the next trip down to finish with 24, going 3-for-5 beyond the arc.
Hardaway Jr. led the Knicks with 30 points, shooting 9 for 23 from the field, including 4 for 12 from beyond the arc.