The New Orleans Pelicans found out during pre-game warm-ups Monday night that All-Star forward Anthony Davis would not be able to play because of illness.
But with point guard Elfrid Payton returning from a 22-game absence due to a fractured finger and reserve forward Darius Miller returning from a one-game absence due to illness to support Julius Randle and Jrue Holiday, the Pelicans were able to withstand Davis’ absence.
Four players scored in double figures and New Orleans made 14-of-25 3-pointers as it held off the Minnesota Timberwolves, 123-114, in the Smoothie King Center.
“It was a really good, total team effort,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said.
Randle was primarily responsible for mitigating Davis’ absence inside and he responded with a game-high 33 points and 11 rebounds.
“My mindset doesn’t change,” Randle said. “I just continue to be aggressive and play hard. A lot of people played really well. Every time they made a run somebody hit a big shot.”
Holiday scored 26, Miller came off the bench to add 21, making 5 of 8 3-pointers, and E’Twaun Moore scored 17, making 3 of 4 3-pointers.
Miller had 13 of his points in the fourth quarter as New Orleans outscored Minnesota, which had won the last five meetings, 35-25 in the final period.
“We had to play with a lot of intensity because we were missing one of our key pieces,” Miller said. “The guys did a good job of hitting me when I was open and I just tried to take advantage.”
The Pelicans were 5-1 in games in which Payton played before he injured the finger, which required surgery to fix. His return gave the team a lift and he had nine points and six assists in 24 minutes.
“When he pushes the pace and gets to the basket, it’s huge for us,” Holiday said. “Obviously he had a lot of energy with it being his first game back in a long time.”
New Orleans won two of three on its home-stand after losing its last five games before that. It begins the New Year with games at Brooklyn (Wednesday) and Cleveland (Saturday) before returning home.
Karl-Anthony Towns led the Timberwolves with 28 points, 17 rebounds, six assists and five blocks one night after he had 34 points, 18 rebounds, seven assists and six blocks in a 113-104 victory at Miami.
The standings are bleak.
Andrew Wiggins added 20 points, Taj Gibson scored 17, Robert Covington had 16, Tyus Jones had 15 points and 13 assists and Gorgui Dieng had 10 points. But Minnesota (17-20) made just 9 of 28 3-pointers.
The Pelicans led by 12 at halftime and Randle started the third-quarter scoring by making the team’s 10th 3-pointer.
“That was the best pace we’ve played with in a while,” Gentry said. “When we play at that pace it creates open threes instead of the defended ones we get when we (play at a slower pace).”
The Wolves used the 3-pointer to cut into the lead. Covington made two 3-pointers and Wiggins one before Towns’ 3-pointer tied the score at 79.
Another Towns basket put Minnesota on top and it held an 89-88 lead after three quarters.
Miller led a New Orleans charge in the fourth quarter, scoring eight points as the Pelicans took a 106-99 lead midway through the period.
The Wolves got within five points three times, but each time New Orleans answered with a basket.
Towns’ 3-pointer and Gibson’s free throw pulled Minnesota within 112-109 with 1:28 left.
Miller made two free throws and after a Wolves miss, Towns was called for his fifth personal foul and a technical. Holiday made all three free throws to give New Orleans a 120-113 lead with 35 seconds left. Towns fouled out moments later.