This time, there was no crumbling at the end against a team of playoff-tested veterans.
The New Orleans Pelicans fought the two-time defending NBA champion Miami toe to toe for four quarters, finishing the Heat off for a 105-95 victory Saturday night at the Smoothie King Center.
“It was defense,” said All-Star Anthony Davis, who scored 30 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and had three steals. “We rebounded. We limited our turnovers, and they couldn’t get out on the fast break. We controlled the tempo. It was a big win.”
And it was the eighth straight game of at least 28 points by Davis, an ongoing franchise record.
The victory by the Pelicans (29-40) ended five consecutive losses to the Heat (47-21). It gave New Orleans victories in back-to-back games, coming after Friday’s impressive win at Atlanta in which it pulled away with a 42-point fourth quarter.
It was an encouraging performance, coach Monty Williams said, no doubt his team’s best this season in the second game of a back-to-back — especially considering the opponent.
“To get this win against the defending champs, you feel really good about what you are trying to do as a coaching staff,” Williams said. “To have so many guys step up and make plays, it is just really cool to do that in front of your home crowd.”
The win came with guard Eric Gordon sidelined with left knee tendinitis. The Heat held out guard Dwyane Wade and center Greg Oden, who have knee ailments and don’t play back-to-back games.
The loss was the fourth in five road games for Miami, which was coming off a home win against Memphis on Friday.
“I’ll be the first to say ‘we suck,’ ” said power forward Chris Bosh, who added that the Heat hasn’t played well in a month. “If we don’t turn this thing around, we’ll be watching this championship from home.”
With the Pelicans driving to the basket and passing off it, they shot 51.2 percent. And they outrebounded Miami 38-33. More important, though, the Pelicans forced 16 turnovers that led to 21 fast-break points, and New Orleans turned the ball over just nine times.
Williams said Tyreke Evans’ drives to the basket were key. Evans, playing at shooting guard in place of Gordon, had 16 points and eight assists with no turnovers.
The Pelicans took control just before the midway point of the fourth quarter. Things did get interesting at the end, although not hairy.
LeBron James sank a 3-pointer at 3:18, starting Miami on a 5-2 burst that brought it to 102-92 a minute later. But the Pelicans turned to their defense and denied the Heat the rest of the way.
After holding on to end the third quarter with a four-point lead, the Pelicans outscored Miami 11-6 through the first 4½ minutes of the fourth.
Then, with 7:49 left, a sequence of eventful plays began. Al-Farouq Aminu drove for a basket and an 87-78 lead, drawing a hand slap from Davis. Davis then blocked Bosh’s shot.
After a driving layup by Austin Rivers, Davis was fouled on the next possession by Chris Andersen while shooting a 20-footer. The ball banked in, Davis sank the free throw to MVP chants and New Orleans had a 92-78 lead with 6:23 to go.
The Pelicans ended a shootout of a third quarter with a 76-72 lead. Miami shot 66.7 percent and the Pelicans 57.1 in outscoring the Heat 31-29. But Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said that’s when the floodgates opened for New Orleans and its aggressive drives.
“They obviously did a great job of breaking us down (defensively), and no matter what we did, we just couldn’t keep them out of the pain,” he said. “We were playing uphill the rest of the half.”
The Pelicans appeared bothered by the Heat’s close, aggressive defense at the start of the game, making just 1 of 6 shots as Miami took a 10-2 lead. But they battled back to a tie at 13 by the 4:20 mark, and the quarter ended with the teams tied at 22.
Late in the second, another toe-to-toe quarter, New Orleans went on a 6-0 run to lead 38-30 and ended the half clinging to a 45-43 edge.
“We knew from the beginning they were going to make runs,” Davis said. “We just tried to make sure we didn’t get our heads down and start throwing up shots and getting frustrated. We made sure we executed on offense, and when we can, get stops and get rebounds.”