NEW ORLEANS – Solomon Hill scored a career-high 30 points and led the New Orleans Pelicans to a stunning 128-112 victory Friday night over the Houston Rockets at the Smoothie King Center.
Houston’s MVP candidate James Harden collected his 18th triple-double of the season, with 41 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists. However, no other Rockets starter was allowed to reach double figures.
Hill, who also tied his career-high with seven assists was the catalyst for a Pelicans team that shot 53 percent from the floor on the offensive end and limited the high-scoring Rockets to 41.6 percent shooting on the defensive side of the ball.
A pair of former Pelicans, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, were held to a combined 20 points on 7-of-22 shooting.
From the outset, Hill looked to establish himself as a threat offensively. He scored New Orleans’ first five points and finished the quarter with 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting, including 4-for-5 from long distance.
“I’ve had a couple of games where I’ve come out hot in the first quarter,” said Hill. “Coach just told me to keep being aggressive. We just capitalized on some of the things they did and just took advantage of it.”
For Hill, who came into the night averaging 6.5 points per game, it was one of those nights when everything clicked. The fourth-year pro hadn’t scored 30 points in any game since high school.
“I just stayed aggressive,” he added. “Ryan Anderson and James Harden were guarding me most of the night, and they put Trevor Ariza on AD, and I just tried to take advantage of it. Every night AD or Jrue is going to get (the opponent’s) best defender. I just have to take advantage of what they give me.”
After tonight’s performance, Hill is scoring 15.5 points over his last four games. It’s something his teammates and coaches know that he’s capable of.
“(He was) being aggressive, not being indecisive, especially going to the basket,” said Holiday. “Him being aggressive, starting off getting to the free throw line, especially him today, dictated our tempo. That’s what we needed so, we’re going to need that every game.”
“(Hill) played great,” said Head Coach Alvin Gentry. “You know defensively, I think he did a great job. You know obviously, Harden ends up with 41, but what we were trying to do was find him inside and try to get him off the three-point line.”
“Our whole thing was that we can survive Harden, even with a 50-point game, but we can’t survive with him having thirty and Trevor (Ariza) having 18 and somebody else having 21 and Ryan (Anderson) having 20. That’s where you really get into trouble.”
The Pelicans got a total team effort in beating a Rockets squad that won by 30 the last time they visited New Orleans.
“The other game after All-Star, everybody was just making shots,” said AD. “We kinda just took that away tonight and said if they’re going to beat us, James is going to have to go for whatever. We just wanted to make sure we took everybody out.”
Newly acquired Wayne Selden scored 11 points and made a trio of three-pointers. Jrue Holiday finished with 19 points and six assists with just one turnover in 28 minutes. Anthony Davis had a good game with 24 points and 15 rebounds, but he didn’t need to be great for the Pelicans to pull off this win.
New Orleans also got a boost from the play of Tim Frazier, a Houston native who entered the game early after Jrue Holiday picked up a pair of quick fouls and continued to attack the heart of the Rockets’ defense.
Frazier finished the night with 14 points, six assists, five boards and two steals.
“I think we did a good job matching their pace,” Frazier said. “We were able to get up and down and get some good looks, lay ups and threes, and that kinda deflates a team when that’s how they play. They live off of long misses and turnovers and I think we took care of the ball tonight and made shots that made them have to take the ball out every time.”
Turnovers had been a huge problem for this team for most of the season, but the Pelicans are starting to value the ball more. In wins over Portland and now Houston, New Orleans had a combined 16 turnovers. They had 15 in Wednesday’s loss to Miami.
“We took care of the basketball and we got some easy looks in transition, which kinda slowed them down,” Davis added. “We were able to set our defense.”
A lot of what the Pelicans did tonight looked like the small-ball sets that the team tried earlier in the season. Though the Pels seemed comfortable in their roles, they were once again playing without DeMarcus Cousins, who was out with injury. The Pelicans are now 2-0 without Cousins in the lineup, with both wins coming in convincing fashion. At some point the Pelicans will have to find a way to thrive with both big men on the floor.
“He’s played eight games, nine games, whatever it is,” Gentry said. “Things don’t happen that quickly. But I know one thing; I know that he’s trying every way that he possible can to fit in and do what we ask him to do, and that’s all we’ll ask any player to do.”
“I think guys just have to step up,” said Davis. “Of course, when DeMarcus is out, roles change.”
“Of course, when (DeMarcus) is playing, we have to change it back; kinda slowing it down and playing from the inside out. I think what we did tonight, we moved the basketball. We move the basketball, whether he’s playing or not, it makes the game a lot easier. That’s all we have to do is move the basketball, and it’ll find itself in the right hands.”