Starting a big homestand after a difficult road trip, the New Orleans Pelicans were determined not to revisit their losing ways.
Certainly not against the Milwaukee Bucks, who entered Smoothie King Center with the worst record in the NBA.
With Anthony Davis leading the way with 29 points and 14 rebounds, the Pelicans turned back the Bucks 112-104 on Friday night.
“I thought he played really well,” said Bucks coach Larry Drew. “He can do it inside, he can do it outside. Defensively, he’s real long around the basket. He had a good game.”
It was the second consecutive victory for the Pelicans (25-37), who had lost their past two home games before going on the road trip. The victory also put New Orleans at the .500 mark at home (14-14), and gave it the season sweep over Milwaukee (12-49).
“It was a big win for us,” said Pelicans coach Monty Williams, whose team had lost eight in a row on the road. “Any win is a big win for us.”
The Pelicans also got another big game from Tyreke Evans, who, making his fifth consecutive start at small forward, had 25 points and a game-high seven assists. And, guard Anthony Morrow scored 16 off the bench on 7-of-12 shooting, including clutch baskets in the fourth quarter.
The Pelicans led 102-92 with 4:08 remaining after a 3-pointer and a jump shot by Morrow. However, Milwaukee closed to 102-97 with 2:33 showing.
Evans sank four free throws down the stretch, and the Pelicans clamped down on defense to seal the victory. However, Morrow scored 12 points in the fourth on 5-of-7 shooting, including 2-of-3 on 3-point attempts. Drew said the Bucks let Morrow get away from them, and that was one of the keys to the game.
“I just tried to stay locked in and engaged in the game,” Morrow saied, “basically just getting myself engaged defensively and letting it carry over to the offensive game, knowing the offense is going to come.”
Trailing 79-78 seconds into the fourth, Davis made a three-point play, then sank a jumper. That launched the Pelicans on a 10-2 run to an 88-81 margin at 9:02, with Al-Farouq Aminu capping it with a rare 3-pointer.
New Orleans entered the fourth quarter with a 78-77 lead after a frantic finish to the third that ended with Davis making a baseline jumper at the buzzer while falling.
Milwaukee led 77-72 with two minutes left after a 3-pointer by Brandon Knight. However, the Bucks didn’t score again. Morrow made a big steal and a jumper, then Davis drove baseline, cutting the lead to one with 30.5 seconds left. That set up his last-second shot.
“After we had the lead, they took it, and that’s usually when we get rattled and can’t recover,” Williams said. “I thought our guys were really poised in the huddle in the timeout (at 1:42). We came out, got some stops and hit a bunch of shots.”
New Orleans led 66-59 with 6:15 left in the quarter, when Khris Middleton hit a jumper, then a 3-pointer before driving and passing to ZaZa Pachulia for a shot that tied the score at 68 and started the Bucks on a 16-6 run that appeared to have given them control heading down the final two minutes.
Despite the Bucks determinedly going inside, the Pelicans were able to go into halftime with a 51-49 lead. Point guard Brian Roberts drove, was fouled and willed the ball in with 6.8 seconds left. He then made the the free throw.
The Pelicans trailed 25-22 after the first quarter in which there were eight lead changes and three ties, the last time at 17.
Bucks power forward Ersan Ilyasova did not play against the Pelicans after being suspended one game for punching Sacramento Kings power forward with 5:50 remaining in the teams’ game Wednesday in Milwaukee. The two were jostling for a rebound, and on replays it appeared to be more of a push than a punch. John Henson started in place of Ilyasova, who has averaged 10.9 points and 6.1 rebounds in 48 games this season.