HOUSTON — There was no better candidate to carry New Orleans through another stretch of attrition than Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, even at the expense of one of the top teams in the entire league.
Davis delivered an exceptional two-way performance as the short-handed Pelicans clawed past the Houston Rockets for a 99-90 victory on Thursday night at Toyota Center.
Davis paired 30 points with 14 rebounds while adding five blocks and two steals in lifting the Pelicans (13-12). It was his early burst of scoring that got the Pelicans rolling and, when the Rockets forged ahead in the fourth quarter, it was Davis who delivered the knockout blow.
“It was huge, not just for me but for all the guys,” Davis said of filling the void left by the loss of guard Tyreke Evans. “All those guys coming in and stepping up was huge for us. That’s what we need, especially when we’ve got one of our main scorers out. All of the guys came in and collectively played well for us tonight.”
Trailing 73-72 early in the fourth, the Pelicans, missing starters Eric Gordon (shoulder) and Evans (knee), seized control with an 11-2 run. Davis capped the surge with consecutive baskets, but he had ample support. Four other Pelicans scored in double figures, including reserve forwards Ryan Anderson (16 points) and Dante Cunningham (15).
Guard Jrue Holiday added 16 points and 10 assists for the Pelicans.
Rockets guard James Harden endured a rare off night, scoring 21 points but missing 15 of 23 shots after performing brilliantly during a recent run of victories over the Denver Nuggets and Sacramento Kings.
Center Dwight Howard scored 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds for the Rockets (19-6). Forward Trevor Ariza added 10 points and eight boards. Houston shot just 38.4 percent and labored mustering energy following a late arrival off an overtime win in Denver on Wednesday night.
“We didn’t play very well tonight. It had nothing to do with last night,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “Last night’s game is over.”
Davis was a handful from the opening tip, scoring the initial eight Pelicans points before center Omer Asik provided some support with a reverse layup at the 6:41 mark that pushed New Orleans to a 10-8 lead. Davis tallied 13 points on just six shot attempts in the first quarter, torching the Rockets with his accuracy on midrange jumpers.
“Without Tyreke we needed scoring right away,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “A.D. was knocking down jumper after jumper. They put Dwight on him right away … but he got open a few times and his jumper was flowing. I think that opened it up for everything else in his game.”
Harden kept the Rockets afloat with eight first-quarter points, but Houston failed to establish any offensive rhythm, even when Davis took a breather. When Davis returned and drilled a 15-footer with 5:18 left in the half, he spotted the Pelicans a 37-35 lead. New Orleans then closed the half with a 9-2 run and carried a 46-39 lead into the intermission.
The Rockets found a bit of energy off their bench in the third quarter with forward Kostas Papanikolaou, who returned from a five-game injury hiatus, and little-used guard Troy Daniels providing a boost after the Pelicans extended the lead to 58-49. Daniels nailed two 3-pointers while Houston hit all 11 of its free throws in the period to surge ahead 68-65 entering the fourth. From there, Davis resumed his dominance.
“Obviously he’s a talented player,” Harden said of Davis. “Just tonight from the beginning we didn’t have any legs. We just didn’t have it. Tough game. We’re a no-excuse team, but we just didn’t have it.”
NOTES: Pelicans G Tyreke Evans missed a game for the first time this season due to a right knee contusion. Austin Rivers replaced Evans in the starting lineup. Either Evans, who will be re-evaluated Friday, or Pelicans F Anthony Davis has led New Orleans in scoring the past 11 games. … Pelicans C Omer Asik made his first appearance against the Rockets following his offseason trade from Houston. Asik averaged just 5.8 points and 7.9 rebounds last season, one filled with discontent when he worked as the backup to C Dwight Howard. … Rockets F Kostas Papanikolaou returned to the rotation after missing the previous five games with a right knee strain. He scored four points.
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