The New Orleans Pelicans gave coach Alvin Gentry the energy he wanted — and, on at least one play, more hustle than he needed — on Friday night at the Smoothie King Center.
But even as they scrambled to force 25 turnovers and scrapped to compete with Anthony Davis sidelined, the Pelicans couldn’t overcome the Indiana Pacers down the stretch.
The Pacers beat an energized Pelicans team 91-86 despite 27 points from Tyreke Evans and a franchise-record 21 steals by New Orleans.
“At the end of the day, we played hard,” Gentry said. “Now we’ve got to play smart.”
No play exemplified the Pelicans’ effort more than the one that knocked Davis out of the game.
With a little less than 9 minutes to play in the first quarter, George missed a jump shot and, after the rebound ricocheted off Dante Cunningham, Davis sprinted to save it and went tumbling into a row of empty seats behind the Pelicans bench. He left holding the lower right of his back with what the Pelicans called a back contusion.
“(I) don’t know anything yet” about Davis’ status, Gentry said. “He was telling me that he had back pain when he left the court, so we’ll find out.”
The Pelicans responded well to Davis’ absence.
The score was tied at 6 when he left the game, and the Pelicans went on a 21-8 run to take a 27-14 lead on Alexis Ajinca’s dunk with 1:45 to play in the first quarter. They led 30-16 after a quarter after making 12 of 22 shots.
But the Pelicans cooled in the second, and the Pacers chipped away at the lead. A Jordan Hill layup with 5:28 to play in the second capped a 14-4 Indiana run that cut New Orleans’ lead to 34-30.
Anderson’s 3-pointer with 1:21 to play in the second put the Pelicans up 43-36, and they led 43-38 at halftime. New Orleans shot 5-of-19 (26.3 percent) in the second quarter and missed 6 of 8 3-point attempts.
The Pelicans had 10 assists on 12 first-quarter baskets and two assists on five field goals in the second.
“Against good teams, you’re not going to be able to beat them if you don’t maintain what you did to get the lead,” Gentry said. “Moving the basketball, making cuts, hitting the open guy, making the extra pass — we did all of those things in the first quarter, and we just got to do it for the other three.”
Even as execution wavered, New Orleans’ effort didn’t. The Pelicans defended hard. They tipped passes and stripped ballhandlers, and their 21 steals were the most by an NBA team this season.
But New Orleans converted 25 Indiana turnovers into just 10 points.
“It hurt a lot,” said Evans, who had four steals to go with seven rebounds and five assists. “I think we settled for too many 3s on the break instead of running for layups. We’ve got to do a better job of that.”
And the Pelicans didn’t respond to the pressure late.
Twice in the final 90 seconds, the Pelicans had the ball down 89-86, but Jrue Holiday lost the ball out of bounds with 1:14 to play, and Eric Gordon’s hurried 3-pointer from the left corner was blocked with 50.9 seconds remaining.
Gordon said he should have called timeout, and Gentry said he had stressed to his players that they had timeouts available if good shots weren’t there.
“Probably would have gotten a way better look,” Gordon said.
The Pelicans had their opportunities in part because of effort and defensive intensity. No Pacer scored more than Ian Mahinmi’s 17 points, and New Orleans held Indiana star Paul George to 13 points on 3-for-13 shooting. He made 1 of 7 3-point shots.
In the end, though, the Pelicans couldn’t capitalize
“The effort was there,” Gordon said. “We just made a lot of mistakes toward the end of the game. We know that. We’re just going to move on to the next game and do better. It was tough, and I know it’s frustrating, but we know what we need to do better.”