Davis-led Pelicans nip Grizzlies

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — All afternoon, Anthony Davis and Zach Randolph went back and forth.

The new-age finesse power forward, with his prolific jump shot and uncanny athleticism, up against the four-man of a different time, who throws his weight around and thrives on pulverizing opponents into submission.

They went toe-to-toe in the third quarter, each taking turns showing off their brilliance — Davis, during one stretch, scoring eight straight points for his team, and Randolph notching a near 20-and-20 effort by the conclusion of the third.

In the end, Davis was too much for the Grizzlies to withstand. He scored 27 points and had 10 rebounds as the Pelicans dispatched the Grizzlies 95-92 Monday afternoon at FedExForum and ended an eight-game losing streak.

“He’s going to continue to make me better,” Davis said. “I love going against him, going against key matchups. It’s only gonna make me better and show me what I need to work on.”

With under a minute remaining and the Pelicans (16-24) leading 93-91, Tyreke Evans put his head down and drove right against Tayshaun Prince. When nothing opened up for him, he kicked it out to a floating Davis on the baseline, who coolly drained a 19-footer with the shot clock winding down and 35.6 seconds remaining.

“He was really big for us down the stretch,” Eric Gordon said. “I thought (the Randolph matchup) was one where it’d be tough for him to guard Anthony. He took advantage.”

It’s no industry secret that in order for the Pelicans to be competitive on a nightly basis, Davis has to operate at this level. But, for the first time since a New Year’s Day victory against Minnesota, his supporting cast supplied him the necessary assistance.

Brian Roberts, starting in place of the injured Jrue Holiday, scored 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting, and Alexis Ajinca added 10 points and six rebounds — little-known reserves who certainly made their presence felt against the Grizzlies (20-20).

Roberts helped the Pelicans out to a 25-20 first-quarter lead, staying aggressive against the Grizzlies’ gamble-prone guards. The Pelicans shot 46 percent for the game and 56 percent from 3-point range.

In several stretches throughout the game, Pelicans coach Monty Williams played Ajinca and Jeff Withey at the same time in order to flummox the low-post-oriented Grizzlies. Using a combination of Davis, Withey, and Ajinca, New Orleans neutralized the Grizzlies frontcourt in the first half, holding the All-Star tandem of Gasol and Randolph to a combined nine points.

“I thought Jeff coming in tonight was a huge (plus) for us,” Williams said. “He didn’t block as many shots, but he was distracting a lot of shots tonight. That was huge for us.”

As most NBA teams do, the Grizzlies managed to make a few runs before the Pelicans could stow it away. They closed the half on a 14-5 run, the Pelicans’ perimeter shooting having dried up and their own shots starting to fall. Roberts sank a 3-pointer with 20 seconds left, however, to give the Pelicans a 41-40 lead at the break.

With Randolph having awoken from his mostly ineffective first half, the Grizzlies continued to trade blows with the Pelicans in the third quarter — Davis and Randolph, specifically.

Randolph scored 17 points in the quarter, and his basket with 11 seconds left gave the Grizzlies a 69-68 lead heading into the final period.

Just as they’d started the game, the Pelicans closed it with the help of strong guard-play. Evans, in his first game back from a sprained left ankle, scored 11 points in the fourth quarter and had the key assist to Davis that sealed the game for the shorthanded Pelicans.

“We’re resilient and we’re gonna keep fighting, no matter what,” Roberts said. “It don’t matter who’s out there, who’s suiting up. We’re just gonna go out there and compete and play hard and figure it out.”