Pelicans.com postgame: Suns 116, Pelicans 104
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
PHOENIX – Lineup changes due to injuries have been a fact of life for the 2013-14 New Orleans Pelicans since Day 1 of preseason, but the lead-up to Friday’s ESPN game against the Phoenix Suns was even more complicated than usual. All-Star forward Anthony Davis wasn’t cleared to play until later in the day. Of the two Pelicans players who were elevated to starting duty for Friday’s game, one of them wasn’t a certainty to be able to make it to the arena on time for tip-off – due to an elevator malfunction, of all things.
Things ultimately went somewhat according to plan, with Davis able to play despite a sprained left shoulder. Showing no ill effects of the injury, he tied his career high with 32 points. A sixth man all season, Tyreke Evans was extricated from a Phoenix hotel elevator in plenty of time for him to put on a uniform and make his first start. Meanwhile, 7-foot-2 center Alexis Ajinca returned to the first string, but was limited to 14 minutes, partly due to foul trouble and the Suns’ extensive usage of small lineups.
The Pelicans’ reconfigured starting group performed well in general, going shot-for-shot and point-for-point against one of the NBA’s most potent offensive teams. At least for three quarters. The fourth quarter was a much different story.
After playing to an 81-all deadlock through three periods, Phoenix got blazing hot, piling up 35 points in the final 12 minutes to pull away for a victory. The Suns (34-24) ended their three-game losing streak, while handing the Pelicans (23-35) their sixth consecutive defeat.
New Orleans took a 79-69 lead in the late stages of the third quarter, but Phoenix responded with a 12-2 run to close the period. The Suns opened the fourth quarter on an extended 24-11 run, taking their biggest lead at 105-92 with 4:33 left. The Pelicans chipped away and got within six points, but Suns backup point guard Ish Smith made a back-breaking rainbow jumper over Davis with 1:11 left, making it 108-100.
“I feel like we had control of the game,” Pelicans Coach Monty Williams said of taking a double-figure lead in the second half. “We got up 10 but just couldn’t hold on to it. For whatever reason, we’ve had these moments in games where we have an opportunity to increase our lead or at least keep it there and we just couldn’t.”
One big factor in Phoenix’s late-game surge was point guard Goran Dragic, who scored a career-best 40 points. A player many NBA observers said should have made the Western Conference All-Star team like Davis, Dragic was a superb 14-for-21 from the field, often getting into the lane for layups.
“Dragic was in our paint all night long,” Williams said. “He’s a really good player, but we could have done a better job.”
The Slovenian floor leader was far from a solo act, as Phoenix’s twin combination of Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris combined for 33 points.
Other than Davis’ 32-point outing, the only Pelicans to crack double figures were season-long starting two guard Eric Gordon (21 points) and brand-new starting small forward Evans (14 points).
“We got contributions from a lot of people (in various areas); we just couldn’t get a fourth scorer tonight,” Williams said.
Davis said he didn’t even think about his banged-up shoulder once the game started. He was 14-for-18 from the field, repeatedly sinking smooth jump shots and appearing to be fully healthy all game.
“I just went out there and played,” Davis said. “Adrenaline just kind of took over. It wasn’t really bothering me like that. It got hit a couple times, but that happens in basketball. I wanted to play and do anything I could to help the team win. I wasn’t worried about it.”
Led by Davis’ efficient offensive game, New Orleans shot 53.8 percent from the field, one of its most accurate performances of 2013-14. Fittingly on a night when Phoenix had a little bit too much firepower and answers on the offensive end, the Suns were a tad better, at 54.1 percent.