DALLAS — The depleted New Orleans Pelicans did Saturday what they couldn’t do Friday.
No, not win. For the second consecutive night, the Pelicans fell to the Dallas Mavericks, this one a 110-107 decision at American Airlines Center.
But this time, despite the absence of injured stars Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Tyreke Evans, the Pelicans showed a little spark and a lot of guts, a hint that perhaps the loss of three of the team’s top offensive guns won’t be the debilitating blow it would seem to be.
“We came out and played,” guard Austin Rivers said. “We made silly mistakes ... and we still had a chance to tie the game. So you can’t really look at this too harshly Because now we know about this team. Everybody was asking how do we think we’re going to play. We know we can win. Just look at tonight, how we played. If anything, it’s a confidence booster.”
Perhaps, but in the end it turned into just another loss, the Pelicans’ fifth in a row, despite two fourth-quarter comebacks and a powerful performance from forward Anthony Davis.
After Davis’ 15-point fourth-quarter surge erased the Mavericks’ 11-point lead, the Pelicans (15-21) gave away a lead of their own with turnovers on three consecutive possessions, allowing Dallas (22-16) to go up 106-99 with 2:42 left. But New Orleans battled back again to make it thrilling in the final seconds, closing the gap to one on Darius Miller’s 3-pointer with 11 seconds to go.
The Pelicans actually had one last chance to tie it with an inbounds play with 9 seconds left. When Rivers found himself stranded outside the 3-point line against Dallas’ Monta Ellis with time running, he tried to fire up a desperation 3 but couldn’t get it off — and didn’t get the call, which would have given him three free throws to try to tie the score, as Ellis smothered him.
“That’s just too bad,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said of the non-call. “That’s just not right. We stopped (the video) with 0.5 on the clock, and Monta Ellis’ arm is across Austin’s … both of his arms for a 3-point shot.
“It’s hard to swallow that kind of no-call in a game like that, especially when (Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki) gets the same call on the right side in the first half. That’s a tough one, man.
“It’s hard to swallow that. Certainly not going to blame the game on the refs, but certainly didn’t like that call at the end. … If you look at the film – I hope the league takes a look at that — it certainly looked like a foul to me.”
Rivers apparently thought so, too, although he didn’t say that.
“The video speaks for itself,” he said. “I couldn’t get the shot off. I’ve never, ever had something like that… I can’t really comment on it. I’m trying not to lose money over this. An unfortunate event happened. It happens in basketball.”
The controversial finish wasn’t all that left the Pelicans frustrated. Despite an awful start by the Mavericks, who shot a miserable 2-for-17 in the first quarter and 27 percent for the first half, the Pelicans let them hang around by shooting just 32 percent in the half and putting Dallas on the foul line again and again.
For the game, the Mavericks shot 45 free throws and made 39 of them — including 15 of 16 by Nowitzki, who wound up with a season-high 40 points. Eric Gordon and Jason Smith fouled out, leaving New Orleans even more short-handed.
The Pelicans couldn’t stop the 35-year-old Nowitzki, who turned the game around with a vintage 20-point third quarter that included 4-of-4 shooting on 3s. And there were the turnovers — 17 in all, eight by Gordon and nine in the fourth quarter.
“We made a lot of mistakes,” said Gordon, who scored 20 points. “Turnovers. They have a lot of great 3-point shooters and then you mix in that many free throws, it’s tough to win. But with all that going on, we were still capable of winning.”
Which is the ray of hope the Pelicans tried to take away from the defeat. With Holiday (right leg stress fracture) and Anderson (herniated disk) out indefinitely and Evans hobbled by a balky left ankle, they managed to get strong offensive performances in their stead from Miller (12 points on 4-of-5 3-point shooting) and Al-Farouq Aminu (15 points, 6-of-9 from the field). Not to mention Davis, who dominated at times and finished with 28 points and 14 rebounds.
“We’re still capable of beating teams,” Gordon said. “It’s not like with all the guys out that we’re out of it. We’re still going to fight and we’re still going to find ways to win. It’s not going to be easy, but we’re going to find a way to win.”