ATLANTA — New Orleans forward Anthony Davis returned from a one-game absence with another big performance, lifting the Pelicans to a 111-105 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Friday at Philips Arena.
Davis, who missed Wednesday’s game with an upper respiratory infection, scored 34 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to help snap the Hawks’ five-game winning streak. His one-handed follow dunk wowed the crowd and put the Pelicans up by 10 with 2 1/2 minutes to play.
New Orleans guard Tyreke Evans had 21 points, and guard Luke Babbitt came off the bench to hit three 3-pointers in the second half. Babbitt opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer, giving the Pelicans a 72-71 lead. They would not trail again.
“Props to Luke, coming in cold like that, not knowing if he was even going to play and knocking down shots,” said Pelicans coach Monty Williams. “It was a bit of a wrinkle in the game play (putting in Babbitt). Coaches do that sometimes and it worked out. Players make the plays and it makes the coach look really good.”
New Orleans scored the first nine points of the fourth quarter. Davis followed up a steal and dunk with a traditional three-point play on a fade-away jumper from the baseline and ensuing free throw to put the Pelicans up 80-73 with nine minutes to play.
Atlanta forward Paul Millsap, guard Shelvin Mack and center Pero Antic had big baskets during a fourth-quarter rally. Antic’s three-point play cut the deficit to 88-83 with six minutes to play. Atlanta got as close as 107-103 after a three-point play from forward DeMarre Carroll with 23.4 seconds left. But the Pelicans hit their free throws down the stretch to seal a season sweep of Atlanta.
The Pelicans (28-40) are out of the playoff picture in the rugged Western Conference and are tinkering with the pieces to build around Davis, who has blossomed into an elite player in his second year in the season. Davis was coming off a monster 40-point, 21-rebound performance in an overtime win over the Boston Celtics on Sunday.
“We’re just going to play hard,” said Davis about what’s important for the Pelicans in the final weeks of the season. “We’re trying to get better individually and as a team, and try to keep the momentum rolling for next year.”
The Hawks (31-36) began the night with a four-game lead over the New York Knicks for the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta is within two games of No. 7 Charlotte and four games behind No. 5 Washington.
Atlanta was outscored 35-21 at the foul line, something Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer pointed out in the loss.
“I thought tonight in a lot of different areas we weren’t as good as we need to be defensively, in particular fouling,” said Budenholzer.
Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague had 26 points to lead the Hawks, and Millsap added 20 points.
The game was tied after a sloppy, back-and-forth first half that saw the teams combine to commit 17 turnovers.
Atlanta answered an early push from the Pelicans in the third quarter with a 16-3 run, but could not pull away. The Hawks led 71-69, heading into the fourth quarter.
“At the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth quarter, our defense didn’t execute,” said Budenholzer. “We didn’t get stops.”
NOTES: New Orleans G Eric Gordon did not play in the second half, and coach Monte Williams said Gordon’s knee tendinitis flared up. The Pelicans play the Miami Heat on Saturday. … Hawks G Kyle Korver sat out the game with back spasms. G Shelvin Mack started in Korver’s place. … “Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts was presented the Be Greater award, which recognizes community difference-makers, during a first-half ceremony. … New Orleans F Al-Farouq Aminu played his high school basketball in metro Atlanta at perennial power Norcross. … Hawks F Paul Millsap is the only player in the NBA averaging at least 16 points, eight rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block per game. … New Orleans F Anthony Davis said he has Louisville, Michigan State, Arizona and Florida in his Final Four.
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