Austin Rivers scored just seven points in the New Orleans Pelicans’ game Friday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
However, he lit a spark that turned into an inferno, and the Pelicans finished with a strong fourth quarter in turning back the Timberwolves 98-91 in front of a national TV audience and 16,541 fans in the first game at the newly named Smoothie King Center.
And it came on the day that power forward Anthony Davis — who led the way with 27 points and 10 rebounds — was selected to the Western Conference All-Star team.
“(Rivers) is capable,” coach Monty Williams said. “He knocked down a 3(-pointer), started driving to the basket, and then his defense was big on (Minnesota guards Ricky) Rubio and (J.J.) Barea, because he’s strong enough to get over screens, and he’s not afraid of anybody.”
After scoring just 36 points in the second and third quarters combined and trailing by 10 points entering the fourth, the Pelicans blew away Minnesota with a 37-20 final quarter. New Orleans shot 65 percent in the quarter and held the Timberwolves to 33-percent shooting on the way to 37 percent for the game.
“We just came in and brought energy,” Rivers said. “It was the kind of win where everybody chipped in. We just needed to make a stand. It felt like we were just out there.”
The win was the first this season for the Pelicans (22-27) against Minnesota (24-26) in three games. It also was New Orleans’ third win on its four-game home stand, its sixth win overall in its past eight games and its fourth victory in its past five home games.
However, there were some dicey moments at the end. The Pelicans led 94-87 with 1:25 left in the game. Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio sank a jumper and Kevin Love two free throws, though, bringing them to three points with 47.2 seconds left.
Then, Rubio deflected a pass that went into the backcourt. However, newly signed Pelican Luke Babbitt ran the ball down and passed to Roberts, who calmly brought the ball up and made a long two-point shot.
“Our team put ourselves in a position to win the game, and that was a critical moment in it,” said Roberts, who had his second consecutive solid outing with 16 points and six assists with one turnover.
Davis then got his seventh rebound of the fourth quarter, was fouled and made two free throws, sealing the win.
Rivers sank a jumper that brought the Pelicans to 71-61 at the end of the third quarter. He then hit a 3-pointer 44 seconds into the fourth that brought New Orleans to 71-66, and a team that was having problems making shots, suddenly had renewed vigor.
New Orleans revved up its defense and went on a 12-2 run, taking the lead 78-77 on a dunk by Eric Gordon after Kevin Love ran into Davis and lost the ball. It was the Pelicans’ first lead since 19-18 at 3:04 of the first quarter.
The surge continued, mostly behind Gordon, who scored 20 points, and Anthony Morrow, who went 3-of-3 on 3s in the fourth. When Gordon nailed a 3 with 3:20 left in the game, it gave the Pelicans an 87-81 lead. They had outscored Minnesota 26-10 in the quarter at that point.
Rubio sank a 3 at 2:17 that brought the Timberwolves to 89-85. However, after a missed Pelicans shot, the next sequence proved huge. Davis defended a drive at the rim, then got the rebound. That led to a 3-pointer by Morrow.
The Pelicans entered the third quarter trailing by five, and the Timberwolves fought them off the whole quarter in their attempts to take the lead.
Minnesota led 71-61 when the quarter ended.
Poor shooting and rebounding were the reasons. And fouls, lots of fouls. New Orleans shot 7-of-16. And, although Minnesota was worse — 5-of-18 — the Timberwolves were a whopping 14-of-16 on free throws to New Orleans’ 4-of-6, continuing a problem that began in the first quarter.
A big reason was this: Minnesota out-rebounded the Pelicans 15-5 in the third. Love had eight rebounds in the quarter to go along with nine points.
For the second time in three games, the Pelicans had a bad second quarter.
Minnesota outscored New Orleans 21-17 in taking a 47-42 halftime lead.
Davis had 17 points at halftime, but Minnesota’s Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer had 11 each and Love 10. The Wolves made 10 of 12 free throws and Pelicans two of four.