NEW ORLEANS – Without DeMarcus Cousins in the lineup, the new New Orleans Pelicans look a lot like the old New Orleans Pelicans. On Wednesday night, that wasn’t a bad thing.
Anthony Davis scored a game-high 33 points and Jrue Holiday broke out of his slump, adding 22 to lead the Pelicans to a 109-86 win over the visiting Detroit Pistons.
It was the first win for the Pelicans since the All-Star break.
Prior to the game, Head Coach Alvin Gentry felt like Holiday needed to be a catalyst, especially with Cousins out. Holiday came out and scored the team’s first two baskets, setting a tone with his aggressiveness.
“I think Jrue is such a conscientious kid that I told him he was trying too hard to be a point guard, and we just need him to be Jrue Holiday,” said Gentry. “We just had a talk about him being aggressive and picking his spots and just playing and not worrying.”
“In order for us to be really good, then Jrue has to go back to being Jrue and not worry about being so much a facilitator, he’s going to do that anyway, but I think he’s got to be aggressive on the offensive end.”
Jrue took the words to heart. “Obviously when your coach tells you something over and over and over and over it kinda resonates.”
Holiday’s four points were the only ones that he scored in the period, but Anthony Davis continued his string of hot starts with 16 points in the first quarter. Davis reached double figures in the first quarter for the third straight game and the 26th time this season.
Alexis Ajinca got into the act as well, coming off the bench with eight points, five rebounds and a pair of blocked shots as the Pelicans built a 31-18 lead after 12 minutes.
“I know it’s tough for (Alexis) because he doesn’t see the floor a lot, but he always stays ready,” said Davis. “He’s always in the gym working and he came out tonight and played aggressive for us; played well, rebounding the ball, scored…all that stuff. That’s what we need from him. Whenever your number is called you have to be ready.”
With the reserves in the game for much of the second quarter, the Pistons clawed their way back into the ballgame. Jon Leuer had 10 of his 22 points in the frame and Tobias Harris added seven.
Outside of Davis, who went 3-for-4 in the quarter, the rest of the Pelicans were ice cold. The other Pels were 4-of-16 from the floor and 1-for-7 beyond the arc as the team was outscored 32-22, leaving New Orleans with a tenuous 53-50 lead at the half.
But it was a resurgent Holiday who helped the Pelicans open the third quarter on a 18-10 run. He scored eleven points during that stretch as New Orleans extended its lead to 71-60 halfway through the period.
Again, the Pistons came back, closing to within six points with under two minutes to go in the third. But the game took a sharp turn from there. Following an Andre Drummond blocked shot, Tim Frazier slipped behind the Detroit center and stole the ball. He and Drummond became tangled up before the 6-11 Drummond pushed 6-1 Frazier in the head, resulting in a Flagrant 2 being called and Drummond’s ejection from the game. He left with 13 points and 17 rebounds.
Detroit guard Ish Smith thought it was the turning point of the game. “He was impressive tonight, it’s just unfortunate,” Smith said. “He was very, very dominant tonight and (the ejection) made a difference.”
Frazier kept his composure, and his teammates were quick to come to his aid. Though, to hear Frazier tell it, he wasn’t worried at all.
“I’m not going to back down from anybody,” said Frazier. “It’s how I was raised, and I had to fight for a lot of stuff to get where I am, to be successful.”
“Tim is tough,” added Davis. “He loves the game of basketball, he’s passionate about it. We gotta make sure that we don’t lose him, because he comes in and plays well for us, off that bench running that second unit.”
New Orleans ended the third quarter up by eight, 78-70. Detroit cut the lead to six on a Tobias Harris jumper with 10:40 to play, but from there it was all Pelicans. The Pels went on a 19-8 run over the next seven minutes. Dante Cunningham was the primary beneficiary, scoring 10 of his 16 points during that span. E’Twaun Moore had eight points in the final quarter, becoming the fifth Pelican to reach double figures as he finished with 11.
New Orleans closed the fourth outscoring Detroit 31-16 to set the final margin of victory. On the night, the Pelicans held the Pistons to 39 percent shooting as a team (3-for-23 on three-pointers). Detroit also missed 14 of 17 free throw attempts (17.6 percent), tying a franchise record for fewest free throws made by a Pelican opponent and setting a new record for the worst free throw shooting performance by a team in NBA history.
Pistons Head Coach Stan Van Gundy was unhappy to say the least. “It’s incredibly disheartening when you make a good offensive play and you draw the foul and it amounts to zero. It’s the same thing as a turnover. You just can’t shoot the ball like that.”
Meanwhile, the Pelicans finished the night shooting 50 percent, and converted 22 of 23 free throw attempts.
“I thought we played well as a team,” Gentry added. “I thought defensively we were really good. I think that they decided they were going to double AD, and AD did a good job of getting the ball out and we had wide open shots that went in tonight. When you do that, that’s when you get separation.”
Now the Pelicans will look for the effort they showed tonight to carry over when Cousins returns.
“We just have to keep playing the same,” said Solomon Hill. “(Demarcus) is going to get his regardless – on a good night or a bad night he’ll be effective. We just have to keep moving the ball and stay the same, defensively be the same, and take care of the ball a little better.”
“A lot of guys stepped up and made shots,” Davis said. “We gotta carry it over to Friday’s game (against San Antonio) when (Demarcus) is back. Of course, it’ll be different, but we just gotta find a way to do it with or without him. He brings a different look to our team but we just need everybody to play the same way they played tonight.”