CHICAGO — There were some defensive breakdowns. There was a crucial missed rebound. For the first time this season, the Pelicans lost a game that they led going into the fourth quarter.
But for all that was wrong with New Orleans’ 98-94 loss to the Bulls, coach Alvin Gentry wanted to focus on what was right.
A Pelicans team that so often has had its effort questioned showed plenty of effort. And Gentry has said all season that, if his team will give its all, he can deal with the rest.
“My overall take on it is that, if we compete at that level, we’ll be fine if we shore up the couple of mental breakdowns that we had,” he said. “I thought we competed great, played hard. For the most part, we executed well. We just had a couple of plays at the end that we’ve got to try to make if you’re going to win, on the road especially.”
The Pelicans fell to 6-17 overall and 5-1 when leading after three quarters. They were outscored 34-24 in the fourth and couldn’t slow Chicago’s Aaron Brooks, who had 15 of his 17 points in the fourth, including a driving layup with 40.4 seconds to play that gave the Bulls the lead for good at 96-94.
The open 3-pointers Brooks got at the start of the fourth quarter — he made two, and Kirk Hinrich had one in a 9-0 run that erased a 70-64 deficit entering the final period — bothered Gentry. He was less disturbed by the rest of Brooks’ performance.
“He drove to the basket, and the last two layups he made were great shots,” Gentry said. “We had him defended and he made great shots, and you can’t do anything about that.”
Chicago took a 76-71 lead on a Joakim Noah dunk with 9:03 to play in the quarter, but the Pelicans answered with an 8-2 run that was all Evans. He assisted Dante Cunningham on a 3-pointer, then made a layup and a 3 of his own to put New Orleans back in front 79-78 with 7:32 to play.
Anthony Davis tied the score with 1:48 to play on a soft hook that drew a foul from Pau Gasol. Davis made the free throw to even the score at 94. But the Pelicans didn’t score again, and Chicago closed out the win with Brooks and Rose doing the damage.
Davis had 22 points and 13 rebounds but shot 8-for-24.
“I love the shots that I got,” Davis said. “In my area, and shots that if you look back at the film, I make any day of the week. You’ve just got to stay with it. I just tried to contribute on the defensive end, as far as rebounding, blocking shots and talking on defense. I just kept shooting. The team told me to kept shooting, and that’s what I did. Unfortunately they didn’t fall tonight.”
Even with Davis and Eric Gordon having subpar shooting nights — Gordon was 5-for-15 — and Brooks’ heroics, the Pelicans had their chances. Tyreke Evans had seven of his 22 points in the fourth quarter and finished with eight assists, and Norris Cole had 10 points and six assists in his best game since returning from a high ankle sprain that cost him the first 17 games of the season.
Gordon missed a 3-pointer with 30 seconds to play that could have given the Pelicans the lead. Afterward, he reviewed the shot in the locker room and said he drifted a bit on his release.
“That was a good look,” he said. “Coach drew up a good play, and I had a good look. That’s all you can ask for.”
Davis said the Pelicans “could have gotten some more rebounds” and that they had a few breakdowns. But mostly, he credited Chicago with making tough shots, and he liked the effort the Pelicans showed on the second night of a back-to-back after Friday’s win against the Wizards.
Gentry liked it, too. And he wants to see more of it.
“We have to some kind of way create consistency,” Gentry said. “If you ask me from the Washington game (Friday) to this game, I think we had that. If we can compete at that level, we can correct the other parts of it, the technical parts of it that we’ve got to get better at.
“If we’re going to play at this level, we can be successful, but we’ve got to keep it at this level, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re executing.”