The New Orleans Pelicans saw finishing this three-game homestand unbeaten as something to cherish in the young season as they began to build confidence as a team.
Obviously, they were prepared to fight for it.
In a game that looked like the reverse of previous ones, the Pelicans were the ones who weathered another young gang of upstarts and ended the game on a 23-7 run to snatch a 104-100 victory Friday night at New Orleans Arena.
With tough games coming up at San Antonio and at home against Golden State, it was the second consecutive gritty performance by the Pelicans (6-6) and the third win in a row. It also was the fourth straight home victory for New Orleans. And it was coach Monty Williams’ 100th career victory.
“You are going to have games like that, where you’re not hitting shots, and things are not going your way,” Williams said. “We were 12 points down, and (point guard Jrue Holiday) brought the guys together and said ‘This is where we grow up.’
“We haven’t been in these situations enough to build any corporate equity, but that’s what we built tonight. We have some equity now. We know we can come back, we know we can play in close games. ... This was a big win.”
The Pelicans won despite shooting 40.9 percent, while Cleveland shot 53.2. New Orleans outrebounded the Cavaliers 48-37 and turned the ball over just 12 times while forcing 19 by Cleveland.
More telling, the Pelicans grabbed 19 offensive rebounds to six by Cleveland and outscored them 23-2 in fast-break points.
Things looked dim when Cleveland forward Earl Clark sank his third 3-pointer of the game, pushing the Cavaliers’ lead to 93-81 with 4:44 remaining. But that’s when the decisive run started, with the Pelicans going on a 14-2 run to tie the score at 95 with 1:29 left.
The lead then changed hands three times before Gordon sank a 3 from the right corner with 31.7 seconds left that gave the Pelicans the lead for good at 100-98.
Cavaliers All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, a New Orleans tormentor last season, then came off a pick isolated against power forward Anthony Davis, a favorable matchup on the perimeter for the quicksilver guard, and tried to drive past him.
But Davis angled to the basket and met him there, and Irving tried to jump into him and draw a foul. No call.
Tyreke Evans came up with the ball, was fouled and sank two free throws with 19.3 seconds left.
Guard Jarrett Jack, who was key in Cleveland nearly pull away, then flipped in a shot in the lane. But Holiday was fouled, and he too sank two free throws with 13 seconds left, sealing the victory.
Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said he thought Irving was fouled.
“I thought he was bumped, but one of the officials said he wasn’t bumped, and maybe he wasn’t,” Brown said. “That was a tough no-call.
“But that wasn’t the ballgame, though. The ballgame was us turning the ball over, us giving up that many offensive rebounds and then their transition game. Ballgame.”
A good third quarter, a period of past Pelicans meltdowns, also played a part. It began with the Pelicans challenged with having to overcome a 51-42 halftime deficit.
Cleveland nudged the lead to 55-44 less than two minutes into the quarter. With the Cavaliers leading 64-54 with 6½ minutes to go in the quarter, Evans sank an unlikely 3. That touched off a 12-0 Pelicans run that carried them to a 66-64 lead on a 3-pointer by Ryan Anderson. Evans had five points in the run and center Jason Smith four.
Clark hit one of his 3s for a 69-66 lead at 1:26, and the Cavaliers carried a 71-70 lead into the fourth. But the Pelicans, who forced the issue and got into the free-throw penalty situation less than halfway through the quarter, were right back in it.
“Twenty-eight to 20,” Williams said. “Our deal in the first half was that we just didn’t guard the ball. (Cavaliers guard) Dion Waiters was putting his head down, going to the basket, Kyrie. Alonzo Gee dunks the ball on the second possession.
“You have to make it an ugly game, and we didn’t do that in the first half.”
Having lost a 10-point lead in the first quarter against the Pelicans, the Cavaliers forced the issue in the second quarter. Three minutes into the quarter, Cleveland began to distance itself from the Pelicans with a couple of 3-pointers.
Sergey Karasev sank one at 9:25 that gave Cleveland the lead at 26-25. Then forward Earl Clark hit one at 7:47 for a 32-27 advantage.
Going against Matthew Dellavedova, named a starter before the game, Gordon was able to answer the drives, keeping the Pelicans within 38-35, and got Dellavedova in foul trouble. But that brought Gee back in the game, and he clamped down on Gordon.
Meanwhile the Cavaliers, the bigger, stronger team compared to the athletic Pelicans, had begun taking the ball to the basket, especially Waiters. Waiters drove for consecutive baskets, answered a 3-pointer by Anderson with one of his own, then drove and was fouled by Gordon and completed a three-point play. That gave Cleveland a 47-40 edge at 2:47.
The half ended with Jack, a former New Orleans player, hitting a desperation off-balance shot at the buzzer, giving Cleveland a 51-42 halftime lead.