MILWAUKEE — The New Orleans Pelicans started their night down four players and spent nearly half the game without Anthony Davis.
Yet somehow, they found themselves clinging to a one-point lead late Wednesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks.
But in a script that's become all too familiar this season, the Pelicans couldn't hold on down the stretch and fell to the Bucks 123-115.
"I thought we played hard," coach Alvin Gentry said. "We competed at a really high level and followed the game plan we put out there, but you have to be able to finish games."
Jrue Holiday finished with 25 points and 12 assists and Darius Miller added with 20, including six 3-pointers, while Davis led the Pelicans with 27 points and 11 rebounds despite missing nearly two full quarters.
He'd gotten off to a blistering start, scoring 14 points with eight rebounds through the first 11 minutes of the game but limped off the court with a minute remaining in the opening quarter with what appeared to be an injury to his left ankle.
At halftime, though, the team announced Davis was dealing with an "illness," and said his return was questionable.
"He was sick," Gentry said. "He went in and, uh, lost his lunch a couple of times but he was able to come back out."
Davis' absence opened the door for Jahlil Okafor to get extended playing time and the third-year center certainly took advantage of the opportunity. He finished with a season-high 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting and also grabbed three rebounds while blocking a pair of shots over 13 minutes — the most action he's since since Nov. 1, when he logged 14 minutes in a rout at Portland.
"He just went out and played," Gentry said. "He played relaxed, he attacked the basket. He took his time and was under control. He's a talented player — you don't get picked second in the draft without being a talented player — but he's young and he just needs to get in the right situation. We really like him.
"I told him, this is something you have to keep yourself prepared because your opportunity is going to come when you least expect it. He kept himself prepared to play and he did a great job."
With the Pelicans up 66-62, Okafor opened the third quarter on the floor after the team announced Davis' return would be questionable. He hit his first four shots in the quarter, accounting for eight of New Orleans' first 14 points and blocked a pair of shots before he was replaced by Davis with 5:45 left in the quarter.
"I was just doing what I do, what I've always been able to do," Okafor said. "My teammates were telling me to keep going so they gave me a lot of confidence and made my job easy."
Davis stayed on the floor the rest of the way and opened the fourth with five straight points, putting the Pelicans up 95-90 before the Bucks rattled off nine unanswered — six of them coming from Antetokounmpo.
Holiday cut the deficit to 106-105 with a 3-pointer at the 6:21 mark and Davis put the Pelicans back in front, picking off Khris Middleton's pass attempt then taking it all the way back for a streaking dunk to make it a 107-106 game.
That, though, would be the Pelicans' last hurrah. They missed their next three shots — 3-point attempts from Holiday, Hill and Miller — and turned the ball over twice while the Bucks stretched the lead to 10 before Miller snapped the drought, sinking a 3-pointer with 2:38 to play.
"We did a poor job the last four minutes of the game." Gentry said. "The execution down the stretch has to be much better. Defensively, we had too many blow-bys at the end of the game. That put all the pressure on our rim protectors. We just have to make sure that we're completing plays."