Pelicans open homestand with win over Bulls

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ-- New Orleans Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis (23) jams one in as the  Pelicans play the Bulls in New Orleans, La. Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014.
Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ-- New Orleans Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis (23) jams one in as the Pelicans play the Bulls in New Orleans, La. Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014.

Fresh off an All-Star snub, New Orleans Pelicans second-year power forward Anthony Davis said he had other concerns Saturday night at New Orleans Arena.

Going against the physical Chicago Bulls, Davis led the way with another sterling performance in an 88-79 victory before a sellout crowd Saturday night at New Orleans Arena.

The Pelicans matched the physical play and then some, holding Chicago to 38.6 percent shooting.

“I told them that they won a man’s game tonight,” coach Monty Williams said. “This was as close playoff-level basketball as it gets.”

Davis had a game-high 24 points, with eight rebounds and six blocked shots in his battle with Bulls All-Star Joakim Noah. The blocked shots extended Davis’ franchise record of at least four to six games.

“I’m trying to protect the rim,” Davis said. “My teammates are doing a great job of not fouling while guys are driving to the basket, so I’m there to clean it up.”

He returned from a one-game absence after dislocating the index finger on his left hand. Playing with it taped to his middle finger, and shot 10-of-14 from the field in 40 minutes, 13 seconds of play. Tyreke Evans, with 11 points, was the only other Pelican in double figures.

The victory was the fourth in five games and fifth in seven for the Pelicans (20-26), who began a four-game home stand. New Orleans had lost four of its past six at the Arena.

New Orleanian D.J. Augustin led the Bulls (23-23) with 23 points, and Noah had 14 points and 16 rebounds. Chicago came in having won 11 of its past 15, including its previous game Wednesday night at San Antonio.

With Davis leading the way, New Orleans did it with defense. The Bulls scored just 18 points in each of the second and third quarters, when the game basically was won.

“They went on a 14-3 run during the first 6:02 of the second quarter and were able to take control,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “I think the biggest thing was they beat us to 50-50 balls.”

The Pelicans fought off the Bulls at every turn from the opening quarter. Still, the fourth quarter found Chicago just 10 points back at 78-68 with 7:25 left.

However, at the five-minute mark Davis made a series of plays that all but cemented the victory. First, he went to the floor in making a steal, then continued the sequence by driving and passing for a layup by center Alexis Ajinca.

Then, after a miss by Augustin, Davis sank an 18-foot straight-away jumper for an 84-69 lead at 4:47 that prompted a Chicago timeout. Davis, who usually shows no emotion, lifted his arms.

“He was going against a great player, Noah, and it got a little emotional,” said guard Austin Rivers.

The Pelicans entered the third quarter with an 11-point lead, but in that Bermuda triangle of a stanza, no lead had been safe. However, with both eams shooting less than 39 percent, the Pelicans outscored the Bulls 21-18 in taking a 71-57 lead into the fourth.

“We know that the third quarter always kills us,” Davis said. “We came out in that third quarter and said we are not going to give up the lead.”

Chicago had cut the lead to 64-54, but Evans assisted on a drive to center Greg Stiemsma, and followed with a three-point play.

In a game in that was a defensive duke-out, the Pelicans sprinted out to a 7-0 lead by making the Bulls fire away from outside. After a timeout, Chicago began forcing the issue in the lane, then Augustine got into the act. He scored seven consecutive points, assisted on basket, then drove for one to give the Bulls a 17-15 lead at 3:44 of the first.

However, the Pelicans led 23-21 when the quarter ended.

They revved up the defense in the second, holding the Bulls without a field goal to the 2:54 mark. Chicago shot 30.8 percent. The Bulls also dug in defensively and came to 45-36. But Davis drove against Noah for a 3-point play. When rookie center Jeff Withey made a baseline hook with 47.9 showing, it was 50-37.

Augustine, who finished the first half with 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting, scored the half’s final basket on a back-door pass from Noah.

The Pelicans pounded the lane, scoring 26 points, which helped them shoot 52.6 percent in the half.