West fuels comeback from Pelicans’ 16-point lead
New Orleans Arena is mighty swanky now, but it apparently is much the same for David West.
West, Indiana’s power forward who was an All-Star during his playing days in New Orleans, made four big free throws and a key defensive play down the stretch. That helped the Pacers take a 95-90 victory in the Pelicans’ season opener Wednesday before a sellout crowd of 17,803.
West, who won last year’s game with late shots in the lane over Anthony Davis, backed down Lance Thomas as was fouled with 1:06 left in the game. He sank both free throws. Then, after West blocked Davis’ drive with 50 seconds left, George Hill sank a 3-pointer for an 89-85 bulge.
Eric Gordon drove for a layup with 17.7 seconds left. However, with the Pelicans having to foul, West was sent to the free-throw line and again made both.
“I was just making plays,” West said. “The block, I knew (Davis) was going to go left. He got me the time before going left. The second time, though, he got the ball a little farther out, and that allowed me to get over.
“But Paul George is the one who carried us.”
The disappointing loss came after the Pelicans had led by as many as 16 points in the first half overshadowed guard Eric Gordon’s 25 points, 24 by point guarad Jrue Holiday and 20 points and 12 rebounds by Davis.
The Pelicans entered the third quarter leading 66-61. However, the Pacers (2-0), an Eastern Conference finalist last season, broke loose for 36 points in the fourth quarter to snatch the victory.
“We didn’t give it away; they took it,” said Pelicans coach Monty Williams. “I just didn’t think that we had an understanding of the moment in the fourth quarter.
“We just gave up too many points and had too many empty possessions. We just didn’t execute in the fourth quarter like we had in the first three.”
George scored 32 points and kept the Pacers’ hopes alive with baskets, many coming with the shot-clock in its final seconds. He hit four big 3-point shots.
After entering the fourth quarter holding on with its five-point margin, the Pelicans led just 74-71 with 6:38 left. George tied it at 76 and Lance Stephenson hit a 3-pointer from the right corner that gave Indiana the lead 79-77, its first since 9:51 of the first quarter.
But Gordon started driving, and got two free throws and a layup around a dunk by Roy Hibbert, tying the score at 81. Davis put New Orleans ahead with a driving shot, and Holiday hit a jumper after George missed a 3-point try. With 1:58 left, the Pelicans were leading 85-81.
It was a position it didn’t seem they’d be in after forcing their will in the first half. New Orleans led 50-36 at halftime after holding Indiana to just 35.3 percent shooting, coming up with 11 turnovers that led to 18 points and outrebounding the Pacers 21-15, getting seven offensive rebounds.
George said the Pelicans’ aggressive style of defense knocked them off-kilter. Coach Frank Vogel told them at halftime, George said, to keep moving the ball and playing good defense.
“They really pressured us and took us out of a lot of our sets,” he said. “It took some time for us to kind of sit back and see what was going on, where was the help coming from, where were the double-teams coming from.
“Once, we realized that, we were able to counter that, make plays, find guys open and make shots.”
From the start of the third quarter, Indiana began playing Pacers basketball, getting the ball in to Hibbert and getting passes back out to the perimeter. George sank a 3-pointer, and George Hill drove for a basket and made a 3-pointer off a pass from Hibbert, and Indiana had cut the halftime lead to 52-44 just two minutes, 12 seconds into the quarter.
Holiday almost single-handedly staved off the run, making four free throws. Then, he rebounded a missed George free throw and brought the ball up for a free-throw line jumper.
Indiana had come to 58-53 when Davis and the Pacers’ Ian Mahinmi had a jump ball. Davis won the tip, and Holiday beat C.J. Watson to the ball and muscled in for a layup. On back-to-back possessions, Arinze Onuaku later muscled in for a basket and Davis tipped in a shot for a 66-58 margin at 1:18.
Davis had keyed the Pelicans’ early surge. West had backed down Davis and scored over him at the 7:51mark, bringing Indiana to 6-5. Davis answered with jump shots on consecutive possessions. Then, with 5:38 showing and New Orleans leading 12-7, Davis blocked a 12-foot attempt by West, leading to a 3-pointer by Gordon. Timeout, Pacers.
With New Orleans clinging to a 28-21 lead, the Pelicans went on a 9-0 run capped by a lob from Brian Roberts to Davis, who caught the ball high above the rim and slammed it through, exacting a loud reaction from the crowd. Then, with 3:46 showing, Davis answered a 3-pointer by George by hitting a long jumper from the corner, keeping the Pelicans’ ahead by 41-26.
George sank another 3-pointer at 2:14 that pulled Indiana to 43-33, but New Orleans turned to its defense. Aminu got in the passing lanes for a steal, pushed the ball up court and passed to Gordon cross-court for a 3-pointer. Then, Greg Stiemsma’s defense against West forced a miss, and Holiday, using a high screen, sank one, and it was back up to 16 — 49-33.
But it was an energy they couldn’t sustain.