MILWAUKEE — It’s the next-man-up mentality for the New Orleans Pelicans.
On Wednesday night, that approach worked to perfection against the woeful Milwaukee Bucks.
With Anthony Davis on the bench for nearly the entire first three quarters and the team constantly battling injuries, the Pelicans got double-digit scoring from six players besides Davis.
Unlikely offensive weapon Alexis Ajinca stepped up with 16 points and nine rebounds as the Pelicans beat the Bucks 102-98 in the final game before the All-Star break.
“We’re capable of beating any team, whoever goes down,” said Pelicans guard Eric Gordon, who scored a team-high 21 points. “We’re a good, young team. It’s just all about us figuring it out, and that’s what it’s always been about this year. The next man’s got to step up and expand your role a little bit.”
Ajinca had 10 third-quarter points as the Pelicans came back from a seven-point deficit to take a lead they never relinquished.
“It’s tough when you have your main player in foul trouble,” Ajinca said. “When I came in, I was just trying to do everything I can to help the team. Tonight, I had the good looks. I just put the ball back in (the hoop).”
Davis, New Orleans’ first All-Star since the days of Chris Paul, played just 9:39 in the first three quarters after picking up four fouls. Davis had six early points on 3 of 4 shooting. He was seemingly on pace to have another big game. Davis, who came into the game averaging 20.7 points and 10.3 rebounds, scored 12 points and grabbed just one rebound.
Davis was frustrated he had to sit on the bench and watch his team grind out a victory.
“It was tough. You want to play,” Davis said. “The team feeds off me, and it was tough for them, but it happens. I’m just glad we got the win.”
The road has been unkind this season for the Pelicans. However, the win was their 10th in 27 games.
New Orleans finished the first half of the season winning eight of its final 13 games.
The Pelicans’ offense was on fire all night, hitting 16 of their first 24 shots from the field. New Orleans (23-29) shot 52 percent from the field and made 30 of 50 shots in the paint to tally 60 points. Milwaukee (9-43) — the only team in the NBA with single-digit wins — shot well, too, nailing 49 percent of its shots.
With a strong offense, it was New Orleans’ defense that shined when it need to most. Clinging to a two-point lead, 100-98, the Pelicans’ Greg Stiemsma blocked a shot by Ersan Ilyasova with 15.6 seconds remaining. The Bucks — who were led by Brandon Knight with 22 points — got the ball back, but Al-Farouq Aminu secured a steal with 9 seconds left. Gordon hit two free throws to ice the game.
Forcing two turnovers in the final 9 seconds and four in the fourth quarter were critical, Aminu said.
“When it comes to getting a stop, we take a lot of pride in that,” he said. “We wanted to see how good we can do at the end of the game and it’s a step in the right direction.”
New Orleans led by as many as six in the first half before Milwaukee charged back to take a 57-50 third-quarter advantage. The Pelicans answered with a 13-5 spurt to regain the lead. Up 84-76 in the final quarter, the Pelicans squandered the lead as the Bucks went on an 8-0 run to make it 84-all. From there are on out, New Orleans did what it had to do.
“It’s good for us for all the things that we’ve been through this first half of the season,” Gordon said. “The second half, we’ll see what we’re really made of and see what happens from there.”