postgame: Pelicans 105, Rockets 100 (4/16/14)

by Jim Eichenhofer


A season cursed by injuries ended in fitting fashion Wednesday, with three players in the New Orleans Pelicans’ starting lineup who entered 2013-14 coming off summer-league participation in Las Vegas. New Orleans had two other players clinch individual NBA statistical titles, even though one had already suffered a season-ending injury (Anthony Davis, back spasms) and the other (Brian Roberts, ankle) was limited to just four minutes of playing time for precautionary reasons.

Also fittingly, the Pelicans were severely undermanned, playing without five of their top six leading scorers in 2013-14, but still managed to beat one of the NBA’s premier teams. Two days after upsetting Oklahoma City, New Orleans (34-48) knocked off a Houston (54-28) club that had already wrapped up the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference playoff field. In recent weeks, the short-handed Pelicans also posted victories over two-time defending NBA champion Miami, the title-contending Los Angeles Clippers and surging Brooklyn.

Tyreke Evans followed up his career-best 41-point game against the Thunder by again leading the Pelicans, this time rolling to a 25-point, 10-assist, six-rebound performance. It was the first time since March 2011 that any New Orleans player had put together consecutive games of at least 25 points and eight assists. Evans was joined in the Pelicans’ Game 82 starting lineup by three 2013 summer league veterans – Austin Rivers, Darius Miller and Jeff Withey – as well as December free-agent signee Alexis Ajinca.

Rivers enjoyed one of the best games of his second NBA season, notching 18 points and eight assists. Darius Miller added nine points and two steals, while Withey blocked a career-high-tying five shots.

Although he sat out the final stretch of 2013-14 with his back injury, Davis finished as the NBA’s leading shot-blocker this season, averaging 2.82 per game.  Roberts won the free-throw championship by getting exactly the number of free-throw makes he needed to qualify for the title. Roberts was 3-for-4 on Wednesday, lifting him to 125-for-133 on the season (94.0 percent).

“That’s a crazy accomplishment,” Roberts said. “It’s obviously not something that I set out to do. As things unfolded, I got to the line more and kept making them. It was something that was on my mind a little bit. It’s special, and something I’ll never forget.”

In a tight game neither team led by double figures, New Orleans held off Houston by outscoring its guests by a 25-22 margin in the fourth quarter. Evans scored one of the biggest baskets of the game with 51 seconds left, a layup that produced the final score of 105-100.

Like the Pelicans, the Rockets were without numerous key players, but in their case, it was by choice. Houston sat James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin, giving them additional rest in advance of Sunday's West playoff opener vs. Portland. The Rockets instead gave several untested players major minutes. In one telling example, Houston guard Troy Daniels made the first start of his NBA career and scored a team-best 22 points. Daniels entered Wednesday having scored a total of 20 points on the season.

The Rockets took a 100-99 lead with 2:51 remaining, but the hosts scored the final six points of the game, including a pair of Evans layups.

“We really just stuck with it,” Rivers said of the Pelicans closing the season with two solid wins. “Nobody gave up. Everybody was focused and tried to finish the season strong. That’s what we did. It means a lot. We had to fight through a lot of adversity this year. A lot of guys went down. Guys got opportunities to play, and if you look at the teams we beat in the second half of the season, especially with the guys we had (sidelined by injury), I think it was pretty special, to be honest.”

“We just scrap, fight, different guys make plays,” Pelicans Coach Monty Williams said. “It feels real good to get a win going into the summer. Now we’ve got to build on all of the things that we’ve learned and the growth we’ve had this year we want to carry through the summer and build on it.”