Pelicans.com postgame: Pelicans 102, Jazz 95
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
For much of the 2013-14 season, the New Orleans Pelicans have won games under the most adverse circumstances, while playing without numerous key players due to injury. Friday’s victory over Utah was the most drastic example of the entire campaign, which is saying something.
After All-Star power forward Anthony Davis was sidelined by a left ankle injury just four minutes into the game, the Pelicans had to find a way to win without the services of their first-, second-, third-, fourth-, sixth- and seventh-leading scorers (Davis, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday, Jason Smith and Brian Roberts, respectively).
Despite a lineup that consisted of very little experience or proven NBA scorers, the Pelicans still managed to extend their season-best winning streak to five games. Tyreke Evans spearheaded the New Orleans attack with the best distributing game of his five-year NBA career, finishing with a career-high 15 assists to go with a team-best 22 points.
The Pelicans’ only other healthy player with a track record in the league of putting up big offensive numbers, Anthony Morrow, added 20 critical points as a fill-in starting guard for the second straight game. Morrow registered 27 points in Wednesday’s short-handed victory over the red-hot Los Angeles Clippers.
“I’m just proud of the team. I pray that (Davis) is OK,” Morrow said. “We’ve been behind the 8 ball (all season due to key injuries). It’s to the point where we don’t even look at it and get down on ourselves. We just play through it. We put our heads down and just grinded.”
“We’re not going to (expect) people to feel sorry for us,” Pelicans Coach Monty Williams said. “We’ve just got to go out and play.”
New Orleans (32-40) has had to compensate for injury absences all season, but Davis has consistently been on the floor over the past few months, cementing himself as one of the game’s rising stars. His ultra-early departure from Friday’s game presented an array of challenges, particularly in facing the big and rugged Utah frontcourt tandem of Derrick Favors (18 points, 11 rebounds) and Enes Kanter. Kanter struggled en route to an eight-point, three-board performance.
While keeping the Jazz at arm’s length on the scoreboard for long stretches Friday, the Pelicans enjoyed a 37-31 overall rebounding advantage, even though Davis is their lone double-digit rebounder this season. New Orleans also blocked eight shots as a team without the NBA’s No. 1 rejecter of 2013-14.
“We were able to still rebound without AD, which was huge, because he does so much for us,” said Austin Rivers (12 points off the bench). “I thought defensively, we did pretty well. Defense won the game for us tonight. Offensively, we have enough firepower to win. We have guys who can make plays and knock down shots.”
New Orleans trailed 22-20 after a quarter, but Utah never held the lead beyond the midway point of the second period. The Pelicans grabbed a 43-38 halftime edge, then maintained a slight cushion for most of the second half.
New Orleans led 89-83 after an Alexis Ajinca bank shot with 56 seconds left. The hosts iced the victory by scoring their final 13 points all from the foul line.
As you’d expect in a victory that took place without six key contributors, the Pelicans received a slew of quality games from all over the depth chart. Along with Evans’ and Morrow’s 20-plus-point games, three others reached double digits in scoring, including Rivers, Al-Farouq Aminu (13 points) and Darius Miller (12 points). Ajinca and Luke Babbitt supplied nine points each.
“Everybody from top to bottom, going hard and grinding,” Morrow said of what it took to beat Utah. “Nine times out of 10, we’re a grind-it-out team. We can’t win pretty. We've had a lot of ups and downs, but I just take my hat off to the coaching staff and the team and the fans, really coming out and supporting us. It was a great win for us.”