The Pelicans were a lot better late than they were early.
And with Anthony Davis and Tyreke Evans making huge plays in overtime, they pulled out a 111-107 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night at the Smoothie King Center.
After grabbing a rebound and being fouled with 1 minute and 22 seconds left, Davis sank two free throws that gave New Orleans the lead for good at 106-104. Davis then pinned a layup attempt by Denver’s Ty Lawson on the backboard with 1:15 to go, and Evans drove for a basket with 55.7 left that pushed the lead to four.
“That was a big play,” Davis said. “They had been making shots in the paint all game. It’s crazy, but we were talking about blocks before the game. For that to happen, it’s ironic.”
Evans made the clinching play when he stole a pass with 14.6 seconds left, was fouled and made two free throws.
The blocked shot and finish capped a remarkable game by Davis, who finished with a career-high-tying 32 points along with 17 rebounds and six blocks. It was the first time in the NBA since Dwight Howard in 2010 that anyone had posted such numbers.
Evans had 20 points as he continued his fine play since being inserted into the starting lineup six games ago.
The victory was the third in a row for New Orleans (26-37), the first time it has accomplished that since Jan. 24-26. Denver (27-35) had won its previous two.
The game went into overtime when Anthony Morrow sank a free throw-line jumper with 0.9 seconds left.
Davis had driven to the basket but was denied with 6.8 seconds left when Kenneth Faried knocked the ball out of bounds. Morrow got the ball near the sideline then, with Lawson guarding him, drove toward the lane and pulled up.
“We tried to run a play for AD, but the ball got tipped out,” Morrow said. “I went and got the ball, and I saw that Ty was on me. He’s a smaller, quicker guy. I just wanted to make sure I got to the spot I wanted to get to.”
Denver led 94-90 with a minute to go, but forward Wilson Chandler was called for an offensive foul with 52.6 seconds left. Then Pelicans point guard Brian Roberts made two free throws after driving and being fouled by guard Aaron Brooks with 40.5 seconds showing.
Brooks then drove against Austin Rivers and missed, and Davis and Lawson went to the floor for the rebound, resulting in a jump ball with 17.2 seconds left. Davis tapped the ball to Eric Gordon, setting up the final seconds.
That brought the Pelicans from a long way back, tying their biggest comeback of the season, when they won at Detroit on Jan. 24. New Orleans had trailed by as many as 16 points in the second quarter, then turned the game around with a 30-19 third quarter.
The Nuggets, with Lawson pushing the pace and handing out nine assists in the first half, found themselves playing a much slower pace in the second half.
“I thought Austin and Eric did a good job defending on the ball against Lawson,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “And we got to the free-throw line, which helped us set our defense.”
Scoring 32 points in the lane, Denver had taken a 54-43 lead at halftime. The Pelicans shot 66.7 percent to Denver’s 41.2 in the third quarter to tie the score at 73, with Davis scoring 13 points in the period. Denver, which had 16 fast-break points in the first half, had two in the third quarter.
Buoyed by their big third quarter, the Pelicans continued the momentum in the fourth, starting with a 7-0 run for an 80-73 lead at 9:22. Denver surged ahead behind eight points by Brooks and led 90-85 by the 4:41 mark. But drives by Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu helped bring the Pelicans back.
Note: Pelicans center Greg Stiemsma said the one-game suspension of Milwaukee guard O.J. Mayo was appropriate. Mayo was thrown out of Friday’s game at the Smoothie King Center after he punched Stiemsma, who had set a screen. “I guess he thought I moved into him and tried to get him,” Stiemsma said. “But the punishment fit the crime.”