For the third outing in a row, the game was slipping away in the fourth quarter.
The Pelicans led by seven with six minutes to play but scored five points the rest of the way while allowing 20.
“I think everything is turned up,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said about the Pelicans’ lack of production in the fourth quarter. “Obviously, the defense is turned up. Everything is turned up in those situations, and when it is, you have to be able to then hit another gear yourself, and you’ve got to be able to finish plays and come up with stops and keep this in a workable situation. [The Spurs] did that, and we didn’t. I thought the effort was there, and I thought we tried. We just have to find a way to finish the game.”
Davis took three attempts from the floor and three foul shots in the fourth despite playing all 12 minutes. That included a 13-footer off a Jrue Holiday assist with 3:35 left that proved to be New Orleans’ final points of the evening. The Pelicans missed their final six shots, none coming from their All-Star big man.
“They made tough shots,” Davis, who suffered a lower lip incision that limited him to 4½ minutes in the second quarter and kept him from answering questions postgame, wrote to reporters via text message. “They got two offensive rebounds that we have to get in moments like that. We had some good looks down the stretch and missed them, but mainly we just have to come up with stops, especially late in the game.”
Things have been tougher for Davis since his career night on Feb. 21.
Davis said after that 59-point, 20-rebound masterpiece in Detroit that everything from the game is getting framed. The domination will serve as Davis’ signature moment for some time, the calling card that will likely grant him access onto an All-NBA team and thus a $23 million payday. But it also put the rest of the league on notice.
With injuries limiting the number of shooters to space the floor around him, defenses are now making it very clear that they’re willing to let any other Pelican than the 22-year-old wunderkind beat them. Davis did score 30 in last week’s win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, but he’s been limited to nine, 12 and 17 points in his three other appearances since tearing down The Palace of Auburn Hills, with a game missed because of a sprained big toe in between.
At one point late in the fourth on Thursday, the Pelicans forced a switch that found Spurs 2-guard Danny Green defending Davis in the post, but his teammates were unable to find Davis to exploit the matchup problem.
“Yeah, it was a missed opportunity,” Gentry said. “We tried to get it there. But the one thing we need to realize, the ball goes into the post right there, they’re not gonna have Danny Green guarding him. When he comes baseline, there’s gonna be a double-team situation. As I said earlier when I spoke, in those situations then he’s got to become a facilitator. But we’ve got to try to get him the ball in the post there in those situations, yes. So that was a missed opportunity.”
Those failed chances are piling up late in games. The Pelicans were held scoreless in the final 2:58 Thursday night in Houston to lose a game in which the Rockets set a new low for 3-point percentage (8.8) with a minimum of 30 attempts. The Pelicans also let a 10-point lead heading into the fourth quarter slip away on Saturday to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“We’re up in games, that’s the crazy part,” said Eric Gordon, who finished with 23 points, five rebounds and four assists. “Three quarters we’re just beating the team. I mean, it just boils down to the last three minutes. We get stagnant and we’re not really scoring the ball. We just got to fix that. Once we fix that, we’ll run off a lot of wins.”
Offense has largely been the catalyst for what success the Pelicans’ have had this season. New Orleans came into Thursday’s game tied for 25th in defensive efficiency, just below the Rockets and eight-win Philadelphia 76ers. However, even with injuries forcing them to a league-high 28 different starting lineups, their offense ranks 13th in the league.
But the late-game issues kept the offense from reaching 100 points, bringing the Pelicans to 0-28 when they don’t score in the triple digits.
“I think we’ve got guys that can make shots at the end of the game,” Gentry said. “We’re still in a learning process, I think. That team [San Antonio] has been together a long, long time, and they know exactly where they’re going at the end of the game. This is their 19th straight years making the playoffs, so obviously they’re a veteran team and a seasoned team.
"We have to find a way to figure out who we can go to at the end of the game that can get us those baskets, because I thought we drove it right to the basket. We’ve just got to find a way to finish it. Jrue had two baskets at the rim. We didn’t get them in. We’ve got to find a way to do it.”