Anthony Davis built a reputation for his dazzling skill set and stoic demeanor.
The former was in place Wednesday night, but the latter melted away in a flurry of whistles.
The New Orleans Pelicans’ All-NBA forward was en route to another dominant display, notching 17 points in his first 17 minutes, but his night abruptly short-circuited with the first ejection of his six-year career.
Without Davis, the Pelicans’ performance plummeted, allowing the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves to pounce on the sudden change and earn a 120-102 victory in the Smoothie King Center. It was the New Orleans’ second consecutive loss, nearly erasing the good will the team built during last week’s three-game winning streak.
“We were emotionally hijacked tonight,” point guard Rajon Rondo said. “We didn’t respond well.”
It also kept the Pelicans from tying Minnesota in the heart of the Western Conference standings, and it marked the Timberwolves' second win in New Orleans this month.
For Davis, frustration bubbled over midway through the second quarter, when he withstood contact on a series of shots but never received the benefit of a foul call.
After the fourth close encounter in the quarter, Davis fired a few words at the nearest official, who immediately called a technical.
On the ensuing possession, Davis attempted to block Karl Anthony-Towns’ dunk attempt at the rim, and when a whistle rang out, he once against turned to the officials in disgust.
Second technical. Automatic ejection.
“On a play to the basket, a play which he was called for a foul, he then turned and pointed and ran at the official ... cursing, swearing, using foul language,” referee Ken Mauer told a pool reporter. “And he got ejected.”
After a brief outburst, Davis quietly walked back to the team’s locker room as the arena unfurled into a tizzy. The previously docile 15,555 fans began raining boos and loudly chanting at the referees over the next several minutes.
“It’s a joke, man,” DeMarcus Cousins said. “It’s a complete joke. You saw it. I don’t have to speak on it. You saw it. What I don’t understand is, players are punished for playing off of emotions and showing their emotions in a game, or whatever the case may be. But other people are allowed to and it’s totally fine.
"It’s OK to coach off of emotions or judge a game off of emotions, and it’s bogus.”
The crowd’s furor failed to inspire the Pelicans. Minnesota immediately ripped off an 8-0 run on the strength of two steals, two dunks and a layup, as New Orleans unraveled, falling behind by 14 and never recovering.
It didn’t improve in the second half. Minnesota bombed away from the outside against a sluggish Pelicans defense, extending their lead to 20 midway through the third.
Minnesota shot 62 percent in the quarter, making 5 of 7 shots from 3-point range. Andrew Wiggins led the charge, tallying three 3-pointers as part of his game-best 28 points.
Meanwhile, the Pelicans could never generate a sustained attack.
Cousins chipped in 17 points but took 15 shots to get there. Jrue Holiday paced New Orleans with 27, including a pair of fourth-quarter 3s to pull the deficit back to 98-88, but it wasn’t enough to complete the comeback.
The Timberwolves quickly snapped back with a 6-0 run of their own, taking the Pelicans out of contention.
It was an even more disappointing result considering all five Timberwolves starters logged at least 37 minutes in Tuesday’s home loss to the Washington Wizards, but New Orleans failed to take any advantage of potentially tired legs.
And Davis’ ejection only seemed to provide Minnesota with extra energy — more than enough to propel it ahead of New Orleans in the standings.
“Well, we lost AD and obviously that changed everything,” coach Alvin Gentry said in his brief postgame comments. “He did exactly what we told him to do, which was take the ball strong to the basket. We tell our big guys to take the ball to the basket hard and try to create contact. I’ll leave it at that.”