It pained Anthony Davis to watch from the bench in Denver Oct. 29 as his Pelicans, after a slow start, chipped their way back within two before falling by five against the Nuggets. The result marked New Orleans’ second of six consecutive losses.
Davis has since returned to the lineup, scraping and clawing his way for 43 points and 17 boards in a come-from-behind win Friday at home against the New York Knicks. But the slow starts have lingered.
“If we want to beat the great teams, they’re not going to let us come back like that,” he said after Friday’s win. “We missed a lot of easy shots when we were getting layups and jumpers. We can’t worry about offense on defense and let them get too comfortable.”
After a two-point first quarter on the first leg of this weekend’s back-to-back, Davis took the lead Saturday, matching Denver big-man Nikola Jokic shot-for-shot early on, as the pair combined for 30 points themselves in the first quarter. The early offensive spark, allowing the Pelicans to play with the lead late instead of chase, made the difference in Saturday’s 125-115 win over the Nuggets at the Smoothie King Center.
Davis led New Orleans with 40 points, giving him his highest output in consecutive games this season. He also pulled down eight boards and registered eight assists. It was the third time in his career with back-to-back 40-point games, and his first since January of last season.
"He's really locked in and attacking the basket, but also trying to find guys after they started to collapse on him so much," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said of Davis' combination of scoring and setting up his teammates Saturday night. "They realized they couldn't defend him one-on-one, and anyone who knows (Davis) knows he's an unselfish player."
The home team trailed 96-88 entering Friday’s fourth quarter, but flipped the switch Saturday with the help of a 37-point first quarter, taking a 98-88 advantage over Denver with 12 minutes to go. Jamal Murray knocked down a 3-pointer to kickoff the final period to pull Denver (10-6) within seven, but that’s as close as New Orleans (9-7) would let their foes creep.
Davis and Jrue Holiday, who followed with 19 points, combined for an 8-0 run over 2:39, giving the Pelicans their largest lead of the game, 110-95, with 6:49 left. From there, the Pelicans cruised to knock off their second top-five team in the league this week.
With Davis leading the charge, Holiday said one of the biggest keys against Denver was how the team's fast pace and ability to make the extra pass allowed everyone — especially the team's front court — to contribute.
Nikola Mirotic, who's struggled beyond the 3-point line in recent games, going 6-for-29 over his past four, added 20 points, including a 3-for-7 mark from beyond the arc and 10 rebounds.
Julius Randle added a spark off the bench, taking the point in several early fast-break situations while pounding the boards, finishing with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
After scoring 18 points in his first nine minutes, the Pelicans held Denver's Nikola Jokic to a team-high 25 points. Additionally, New Orleans held Nuggets leading scorer Jamal Murray to 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting from the field.
Despite the Nuggets’ size advantage throughout their lineup, the Pelicans owned the free throw line, led by Davis, who finished 20-for-21 from the charity stripe. As a team, New Orleans finished 31-for-34. Denver shot just 13 free throws themselves.