Anthony Davis doesn’t care what anyone thinks. Doesn’t hold onto any regrets on how the last two weeks played out. Isn’t concerned with how the fans treated him Friday night in his return to the court at the Smoothie King Center.
The Pelicans’ all-star forward was peppered with boos during his introduction before Friday’s home game, and again each time he touched the ball in the opening minutes, as fans let loose of frustration aimed at Davis’ announcement that, in no uncertain terms, he wishes to move on from the city that gave him his start in the NBA.
Make no mistake: Davis put himself in the “awkward” spot he found himself in Friday. He thought his camp was doing the right thing in letting the Pelicans (25-31) know of his future plans, but making them public invited the vitriol that New Orleans fans did nothing to hide for much of Friday night’s primetime game on ESPN.
In the end, he made it hard for the city to stay mad at him for long. Davis’ 32 points in 25 minutes on 11-for-15 shooting from the field and 10-of-11 from the charity stripe helped pace a furious second quarter comeback against the Minnesota Timberwolves (25-30), ending in a 122-117 victory.
“I was excited to be back on the floor playing the game that I love,” he said after the game. “It was fun for me.
“I always love the fans here. That (the boos) was definitely awkward, boo, okay. But it doesn’t matter. I’m gonna go out and play basketball. I was (surprised), but it’s life, man. Some people aren’t going to like you.”
Davis admitted he wasn’t certain how his game would respond after missing the team’s last nine games after suffering a sprained left index finger Jan. 18. Before the game, coach Alvin Gentry announced Davis wouldn’t play a full work load, though he was thrust back into the starting lineup. Early, he was nearly the only thing the Pelicans had going. Davis managed his team’s first six points and 10 of their first 12 – it took more than six-and-a-half minutes for one of his teammates to knock down a field goal.
By then, Minnesota had already once held a double-digit lead and would push ahead 35-22 after the first quarter. Just moments into the second, the Pelicans trailed by 18, the product of a low-energy start New Orleans has, at times, become accustomed to.
But Davis’ presence allowed the Pelicans to storm back. Down 47-29, he scored the team’s next 10 points before fellow veteran Jrue Holiday scored 11 of the game’s next 17. Holiday finished with 27 points to go with nine assists. All the sudden, a Tim Frazier 3-pointer gave the home team a 55-53 lead. The teams would take a 62-all tied into the locker room.
Possibly the lone bright spot from Davis’ prolonged absence, along with the rest of his team’s recent injury woes, have been the opportunities his younger teammates have found to flourish in their expanded roles. And Friday, rookie wing Kenrich Williams put his development on display. After finishing the first half 0-for-2 from the floor, the TCU grad exploded for 13 consecutive Pelicans points over just 1:56 in the third quarter to rocket his team ahead by double-digits. He finished the game with 19 points.
“We have to be that kind of team that plays collectively as a team,” coach Alvin Gentry said.
With 3:14 left in the third quarter, Gentry said Davis had reached the high end of the minutes restriction he had set for the seven-year pro – the same he would do for any player returning from an injury, Gentry said. Davis would sit on the bench for the remaining 15:14 of the game, allowing Minnesota to claw back within 90-88 at the end of the third and give Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins, who scored 32 and 23 points respectively, an opportunity to steal a road win.
But Davis’ teammates refused to ruin his homecoming, holding on to their lead for the entirety of the fourth, evening when the Timberwolves closed within as few as one point with just over six minutes to go. Davis continued stretching on the sidelines to keep himself fresh, but Gentry stayed true to his word.
“I feel fine. My legs feel a little heavy,” Davis said. “When you don’t play for a while, it takes time to get your game legs back, but that’s what treatment and stuff is for, to get them refreshed.”
By the end of the game, Davis had the home crowd chanting, pleading for him to return to the floor. Only time will tell if fans will continue to air their frustrations with Davis’ decision inside the Smoothie King Center during the team’s remaining 26 regular season games. But Holiday and Frazier, who claimed not to notice the boos during the game, both couldn’t imagine them lasting much longer.
“I mean, it’s kinda hard to boo somebody who had (32) points in (25) minutes,” Holiday said.
“If they booed him, I don’t understand why,” Frazier said. “Phenomenal player. Gave everything to this city, and he’s still on our team, and he’s going to go out there and give his all every time he’s out there on the court.”