NEW ORLEANS — Two nights after dropping 41 points on the NBA’s second-best defense in the Boston Celtics, Anthony Davis followed with 44 points against the league’s top defense in the Pelicans‘ 118-114 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday.
Davis enjoyed a 16 of 32 shooting performance, and he went 11-of-11 from the line and grabbed 18 rebounds. Davis carried the primary burden, but with 22 from Julius Randle and 20 from Jrue Holiday, the Pelicans got 86 points from their top trio.
“It’s who we are,” Gentry said. “It’s not like we depend on them to carry the load. They are the load. It’s who we’re going to go to.”
The Thunder switched a lot in coverages throughout the game, but Steven Adams had the primary assignment on Davis. Adams has had some success defending Davis in the past, using his size and strength to keep him away from the basket, but Davis was able to break free on Wednesday. He had a couple of putbacks in the final two minutes that helped seal the game, one coming right after Adams blocked a jump-hook.
“Terrific player,” Adams said. “Really good scorer. Super long. He’s one of those players, man, he’s so fragile as well. You can’t really give him too much contact because he gets those calls. But he’s, again, good player, you expect him to make that sort of s— around the basket.”
Gentry said pregame with all the games the team has already played — more than anyone in the NBA — he wanted to cut back on Davis’ and Holiday’s minutes some. But with Davis rolling, Gentry couldn’t resist: Davis played 40 minutes against the Thunder, three more than his season average.
“It just is what it is,” Gentry said. “I’d like to not play them … if that’s what we’ve got to do to win, that’s what we’ve got to do. It’s great for them to sit out for five minutes, but it’s not great if we’re losing. We’ll get them rest whenever we can and that’s why when practice comes around we don’t require them to do a whole lot. But we have to try and win games.”
Davis had 36 points after three quarters, which was already a season-high allowed by the Thunder to any player. The Pelicans abused the Thunder inside, scoring 74 points in the paint while dominating the glass, 56-39.
Despite Davis’ dominance, the Thunder had a quick late flurry and a chance to win. Russell Westbrook forced two turnovers that led to five fast points and after two missed free throws by Julius Randle, OKC had possession down two with 9.7 seconds left. Paul George set an on-ball screen on Westbrook’s man, and Westbrook attacked downhill, drawing defenders. He kicked to an open Alex Abrines who missed on a what would’ve been a go-ahead 3.
“They are the number one team in the West,” Davis said. “They’re a very hot team. Russ and Paul can get it going. We just tried to get the ball out of their hands as much as possible and make other guys beat us and they made shots but it wasn’t enough to win. You know we are just trying to make sure that we keep competing. We competed at a high level tonight and, when we do that, we are a tough team to beat.”
Davis has been dealing with a hip injury and went to the locker room for an extended period of time after checking out during his normal rotation in the first half. The Pelicans have had an unusual schedule, without more than one day off between games for 33 straight days. But with three days off after their win on Wednesday, they are looking forward to getting a little healthier.
“It’s a chance to recover, take some time away from the game and get back to it on Sunday,” Davis said. “We’re going to let E’twaun [Moore] get healthy, [Nikola Mirotić] and anybody else who is dealing with injuries. They’ll get a chance to rest up and let their bodies heal, and then get back out there. “