Before nearly every game inside the Smoothie King Center, New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry will mention a reliable phrase.
“We have to protect home court,” Gentry has said nearly 100 times in his two-plus years in New Orleans.
After dropping three of their first four home games to open the season, the Pelicans accomplished the mission Saturday night, closing out a 111-103 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in front of a sold-out crowd of 17,624 fans.
It was the Pelicans' fourth win in their past five games, returning home in stride after an eight-day, four-game road trip.
“To be able to have that atmosphere and for people to know when they come to the Smoothie King Center, it’s going to be hard to beat us, that matters,” Jrue Holiday said. “You have a lot of teams that are like that, which makes going on the road so hard. But we want to establish ourselves here that this is our home.”
Despite prolonged stretches of sloppy play marked by a season-worst 23 turnovers, many of which were unforced, the Pelicans (7-6) remained in control most of the night thanks to its superstar tandem of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.
The pair continued their statistical dominance, pacing the Pelicans in most categories. Cousins finished with a game-best 35 points and 15 rebounds, while Davis efficiently chipped in 25 points and 10 rebounds of his own.
“Every night we are coming out here and playing for one another,” Cousins said. “It’s not about who is scoring the ball and who is not, it’s about winning the game.”
On this night, it was Cousins who sealed the victory.
Los Angeles (5-7) trimmed the lead to 103-99 thanks to an 11-point outburst by former-Pelican Austin Rivers during a two-minute stretch late in the fourth quarter.
But Cousins responded, first by finding a cutting E’Twaun Moore for a layup, then connecting on a jumper despite absorbing contact from DeAndre Jordan. A pair of free throws and a defensive stop later, the Pelicans successfully defended their home floor for the first time in more than two weeks.
Cousins scored 10 points in the fourth quarter alone, converting both of his 3-point attempts, while dishing three assists.
“We have guys who can finish out games and make plays,” Holiday said. “Tonight was DeMarcus. Man, it makes us hard to stop.”
The Pelicans held an edge before the game even tipped off, catching the Clippers on the second half of a road back-to-back. Los Angeles lost 120-111 in Oklahoma City less than 24 hours earlier, with star forward Blake Griffin logging 40 minutes.
And Clippers coach Doc Rivers admitted frustration overcame his team on a few occasions Saturday, getting called for three technical fouls from the bench.
“It’s more challenging when you play at 8 o’clock one night and the next night is at 6,” Doc Rivers said before the game. “That’s more than challenging. That’s called ridiculous.”
Owning fresher legs played to the Pelicans advantage in the early stages. New Orleans revved up the tempo, racing to a 31-26 lead which it never surrendered.
However, the lead was always tenuous, because the Pelicans continuously crippled themselves with turnovers. Seventeen of the Clippers first 36 points came off of Pelicans’ errors.
By game’s end the Pelicans committed a season-high 23 turnovers but leaned on their stars and overall 53.8-percent success rate from the field to close out the pesky Clippers.
Not perfect, but at the end of the night, home court was protected.
“We can be more fluid and probably be up a little bit more,” Holiday said. “That would be something new to withstand the lead and keep the lead from early in the game. Yeah, we just have to go back and watch film. I feel like most of our turnovers are just making careless decisions, including myself. So, it’s something that’s correctable.”