Pelicans.com postgame: Pelicans 102, Bucks 98
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
MILWAUKEE – For a large chunk of the 2013-14 season, the New Orleans Pelicans have been forced to play without several of their most important players, though second-year All-Star forward Anthony Davis has been available for 44 of the team’s 52 contests. Due to foul trouble, Davis’ 44th appearance Wednesday in Wisconsin was an ultra-brief one, which normally would spell big-time trouble for the already short-handed Pelicans. Instead, New Orleans used contributions from several players who’ve gotten to play much more lately – partly due to key injuries – in pulling out a narrow road win.
In the Pelicans’ final game before All-Star 2014 festivities get under way back home in New Orleans, Davis finished with just 12 points and one rebound in 20 minutes, relegated to the sideline by foul trouble. Eric Gordon helped pick up the slack with a team-best 21 points, while Brian Roberts had 17 points, including 14 in the second half. Alexis Ajinca added 16 points, coming up just shy of his career high in the NBA. Roberts and Ajinca are fill-in starters for the injured Jrue Holiday and Jason Smith, respectively.
Overall, seven Pelicans registed double-digit points. Al-Farouq Aminu rounded out the starting five with 10 points, while reserves Tyreke Evans and Luke Babbitt deposited 12 and 10 points.
“It’s part of the game. He’s going to have those nights,” Pelicans Coach Monty Williams said of Davis experiencing a rare mundane performance. “We would love to only have those once a year, but when he did get into foul trouble, other guys stepped up. That’s not his normal output, we all know that. When he comes up with one rebound, we know he’s not on his game. He’s carried us for most of the season, so if we can win with him having an off night, we’ll take it.”
It didn’t look like Davis’ or his team’s night when the Bucks (9-43) took a 49-46 halftime edge, then benefited from Davis being whistled for personal foul No. 4 just 2:12 into the third quarter. Instead of wilting without their best player, however, the Pelicans (23-29) amassed 37 third-quarter points. Roberts and Ajinca scored 10 points apiece in the period, while Gordon tacked on eight more.
“That’s why we’ve got a team,” Davis said. “That’s why it’s a team sport. I don’t mind being a cheerleader. I’m just happy we got the win. It was tough (individually). You want to play – the team feeds off me. But it feels great to get a win. We didn’t want that sick feeling going on the plane (back to New Orleans), going into this break itching to play, but you can’t play for these next few days. Going into the break on a win feels good.”
“Once we regrouped at halftime, we were able to deliver a good punch,” Roberts said. “We came out aggressively and tried to play a little better defensively. That was what was able to get us the win. I know (Davis) was frustrated. He wanted to get out there. But sometimes that happens – you get in foul trouble. But that’s all guys have been doing on this team all year, just fighting and competing. If a guy goes out, you just need someone to step up. Collectively, we did that tonight.”
After taking an 83-76 lead through three quarters, New Orleans had to fend off a pesky Milwaukee club again in the final minutes. The Bucks, also missing key players in injured big men Larry Sanders and John Henson, kept fighting back into the game and cut it to 96-95 when rookie guard Nate Wolters swished a three-pointer at 2:08. Roberts responded with a clutch floater, followed by an Evans layup to make it 100-95 at 1:06. Milwaukee answered with another trey, this time by Ersan Ilyasova, to slice it to 100-98. With the Bucks trying to tie in the final 20 seconds, Pelicans center Greg Stiemsma blocked an Ilyasova shot and Aminu came up with a huge steal. Gordon sank two subsequent free throws for a 102-98 lead with 8 seconds remaining. Davis sealed the victory by stealing a Khris Middleton pass just before the buzzer.
“We kept our poise and found a way to make a play down the stretch,” Roberts said of holding off the Bucks’ late-game rally. “We just kept our composure and Eric made two big free throws, then we were able to get some big defensive stops on the other end.”