Jrue Holiday has taken the opportunity to outwardly thank Anthony Davis several times this season.
The New Orleans Pelicans’ MVP candidate has, according to Holiday, “saved" them time-and-again during his statistical outburst.
This time, Davis got to repay the compliment.
“I was the one thanking him,” Davis said.
A two-game home losing skid was halted, thanks to the Holiday’s performance down the stretch in the Pelicans’ 119-115 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday night in the Smoothie King Center.
It was New Orleans’ first victory since their 10-game winning streak was snapped last weekend. It allows them to hold position in the crowded Western Conference standings, after several days of slipping and fellow contenders piling up wins around them.
And they needed to grab onto the bannister to do it. The Pelicans fought out of a deficit in the final three minutes, thanks to a 10-point binge by Holiday.
First, he buried a pair of 3-pointers to take the lead, sandwiched around a put-back tip in. Then, Holiday sealed the win by grabbing his own missed shot for an offensive rebound, before recycling the possession and turning it into a game-clinching layup.
“When I came off that first pin-down and hit that 3, I felt pretty good,” Holiday said. “I just decided to be aggressive. (Rajon) Rondo gave me ball, so that was kind of a sign. I made some plays happen. I got my own rebound. It was pretty cool.”
However, Davis did his part as well, swatting away Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the Hornets’ last-gasp attempt in the final 30 seconds.
It was an important step.
The Pelicans started the week holding a trim cushion on the No. 4 spot, but a pair of uninspired defeats quickly pulled them into the West’s No. 5 position, and less than two games removed from being on the outside of the playoffs entirely.
So, the urgency to correct the most pressing problems was obvious.
Pace and passing.
“We have been dropping in pace and hadn’t been scoring in the 100s like we usually do,” Davis said. “So, tonight we got back to it. We were running, whether off of a miss or a make.”
The Pelicans dished out 10 assists in the first quarter alone, nearly matching what they did in three quarters against the Wizards, and finished with 33. And the ball movement was spurred by an accelerated tempo, charged by Rajon Rondo.
The point guard reached double-digit assists in his first 13 minutes on the floor, ending up with 17, and provided the gas pedal New Orleans lacked on the front end of this homestand.
His passing allowed Davis to score 21 of his game-high 31 points in the first half, and put New Orleans back in the offensive rhythm they enjoyed during their climb into contention.
But, those offensive bonuses opened a hole in the Pelicans’ defense.
Charlotte piled up 100 points early in the fourth quarter, despite making just five 3-pointers and took advantage of New Orleans’ sloppy transition game at the other end. While the Pelicans’ successfully generated 28 points off of 29 fast break possessions, they routinely weren’t set defensively.
The Hornets No. 15-ranked offense shot better than 50 percent for nearly the entire game before finishing at 48.4 percent.
But when it mattered most, the Pelicans pace was able to help run them to a critical home win.
Not only did Holiday finish the Hornets off in the final minute, he played off of Rondo’s speed to take advantage of a spotty Hornets’ backcourt, scoring 25 points and dishing out nine assists.
What neither Rondo, Davis nor Holiday was able to, however, was get to the free throw line. The Pelicans were awarded just six attempts at the charity stripe in the first 47 minutes, and finished with a season-low eight.
“We just have to get in there and finish,” Davis said, declining to comment on officials.
But, it’s Holiday’s heroics and the return of Pelicans’ pace that carried New Orleans to a badly-needed home win.
“We don’t have just one guy we have to depend on down the stretch,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “And, number two, the fact is Jrue can do it. He’s done it before for us. He seems to get more comfortable with it all of the time.”