There would be no third time.
Two losses to the struggling Memphis Grizzlies was more than enough to get the New Orleans Pelicans’ attention this time around. And it was clear from the opening minutes.
For these New Orleans Pelicans, every turned corner reveals a closed road.
The Pelicans (24-21) grabbed the lead early, pushed it out to as much as 21 in the opening half and never let go, tallying a needed 111-104 win on Saturday night in the Smoothie King Center.
It was the type of performance this team has often failed to generate against the bottom rung of the NBA standings, building an early cushion capable of being guarded and maintained throughout.
The cause of the urgency required a simple diagnosis.
“It’s because we lost the last game,” Jrue Holiday said, pointing to a 94-93 defeat to the last-place Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday. “For real. For real.”
“That’s exactly why,” said Anthony Davis, who conducted his postgame interview in tandem with Holiday.
But despite the fast start, it still wasn’t easy.
Still, that early advantage ensured even when the Grizzlies (16-29) rattled off a 14-0 run to open the second half, the Pelicans’ lead still held a sliver of a lead. It allowed New Orleans to withstand the haymaker blow and fire back to earn a win.
Jrue Holiday not only led the Pelicans with 27 points, he ended the second-half drought by floating in a short jumper. Then he proceeded to carry the Pelicans’ offense out of its third-quarter funk by performing a pirouette for an And-1 and draining a 3-pointer.
These two phrases have become synonymous.
“We were really bad coming out of the third quarter, but we just tried to stay with it,” Davis said.
By the time Holiday’s scoring binge ended, the Pelicans were back up by double digits.
Memphis, however, refused to go away. Despite trailing wire-to-wire, it wasn’t until late in the fourth quarter before the announced crowd of 18,212 could truly exhale.
DeMarcus Cousins’ 3-pointer in the final three minutes pushed the Pelicans’ lead out to 106-99 and his pocket pass found Davis in the final minute, whizzing past a pair of defenders, before finishing in a thunderous dunk.
It was a rare moment for the pair of All-Star starters, who each attempted just 13 shots, drawing overwhelming focus from a Grizzlies defensive scheme intent to keep the ball out of their hands.
That’s when Holiday emerged, balancing the Pelicans’ attack and torching the Grizzlies with dribble-drives.
“That’s him,” Davis said of Holiday. “He doesn’t need credit. We know how much he means to this team. I don’t want to say this is a bad game for us, but toward the end Jrue was definitely taking over and made plays for us.”
It marked the Pelicans’ fifth win in their past seven games, methodically climbing out of the .500 morass they spent most of the past month trudging through.
This one wasn’t easy, though.
The Grizzlies never backed down. Despite playing their second game in two nights and without a handful of starters, Memphis kept stride-for-stride with the fresh Pelicans for most of the second half, led by Wayne Selden.
There was a rare buzz surrounding the New Orleans Pelicans practice on Friday afternoon.
The former Pelicans’ castoff, who started a handful of games for New Orleans on a 10-day contract last year, scored a game-high and career-best 31 points on just 16 shots. Selden’s shooting heroics came to a halt when he was most needed though.
“He was on fire,” Holiday said. “He made a lot of shots and made some big shots. It was just him. He had a great game and he was unstoppable.”
However, an open 3-pointer rimmed out in the final 30 seconds, failing to pull the Grizzlies within a point and allowing New Orleans to ice the game from the free throw line.
It was an important step for the Pelicans, allowing a lead to wither without falling entirely.
“Well, I think it’s great we did that, but obviously I wish we didn’t have to do,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “But, they came out and made some 3s to start the third quarter and I told the guys they wouldn’t quit…But, I do like the fact we maintained our poise and were able to finish the game."
The New Orleans Pelicans starting lineup is static.