SALT LAKE CITY — Facing an opponent with the NBA’s worst scoring offense seemed like a perfect formula for producing a bounce-back win. But New Orleans found out even a bad offense can look good against a defense without a knockout punch.
The Pelicans allowed the Utah Jazz, who averaged a league-worst 86.9 points per game, to score 38 fourth-quarter points and rally for a 111-105 victory on Wednesday night. It was Utah’s first victory of the season.
Anthony Davis imposed his will on the court for long stretches against the Jazz. He scored 29 points and collected 15 rebounds to lead the Pelicans.
Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans each had 19 points and Eric Gordon chipped in 16 for New Orleans (3-6) in the loss. Their combined effort was not enough to prevent a fourth-quarter collapse where New Orleans yielded a double-digit lead to the Jazz.
For Davis, the problem was that the Pelicans did not do enough to bury Utah in the second half when they had the chance.
“It all starts coming out of halftime,” Davis said. “We got to make sure they have no life in them. I’m not sure how much we were up, but we have to come out in the third quarter and put it on them.”
Gordon Hayward scored 27 points and dished out a career-high 10 assists to lead Utah (1-8), which came into Wednesday’s game as the NBA’s lone winless team. Richard Jefferson had 22 points and Enes Kanter added 21 to help spark the Jazz comeback.
Utah had a 44-34 advantage in rebounds and shot 37-of-72 from the field (51 percent), which helped the Jazz overcome 21 turnovers.
“They did an unbelievable job of overwhelming us at the basket and then they started knocking down 3s,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “They scored 38 points in the fourth quarter and that’s just unacceptable. For us, we have to learn how to win these games on the road or anywhere.”
New Orleans led by as much as 16 points early in the third quarter, going up 61-45 on a Jason Smith layup. But Utah came roaring back behind hot shooting from Jefferson. He made four baskets to fuel the bulk of a 15-4 run that brought the Jazz back into the game. Kanter capped the run with a layup, trimming the Pelican lead to 63-60 with 5:47 left in the third quarter.
Davis scored on a driving layup and tacked on three free throws to push the lead back to 10 at 70-60. Utah simply ripped off another big run. The Jazz scored 10 unanswered points — climaxing with a corner 3-pointer by Hayward — to tie it at 70-70.
Holiday converted a three-point play and drove for another layup to close out the third quarter and stunt some of the Jazz momentum. Then Davis went to work, imposing his will in the post during the fourth quarter.
Davis made a pair of baskets and a pair of free throws to put New Orleans up 85-78. When the Jazz rallied and finally took a 94-93 lead after a layup from Derrick Favors, Davis answered with a short jumper on the other end to put the Pelicans back in front.
“They kept chopping wood, but we kept scoring,” Davis said. “We kept getting stops.”
It didn’t last.
Utah regained the lead on a layup from Marvin Williams a short time later and Jefferson buried his third 3-pointer of the game to give the Jazz a 101-97 lead with 2:35 left.
New Orleans cut it to 104-103 on Gordon’s 3-pointer with 1:10 left.
But Jefferson and Hayward made five free throws in the final minute to secure the Jazz win.
“Bottom line is we have to play defense a lot better than we’ve played,” Williams said.
Davis put his stamp on the game right away. He nearly had a double-double before the end of the first quarter, scoring eight pounds and collecting nine rebounds in the first 12 minutes (he did not see much action in the second quarter, however, after picking up his second foul).
Still, his hot start propelled New Orleans to an equally hot start over the Jazz.
The Pelicans went up 10-9 on a 3-pointer from Gordon. Then Davis drilled a basket to spark a 12-4 run that extended into the early minutes of the second quarter, giving New Orleans a 32-22 lead with 10:25 left before halftime.
Utah trimmed the lead in half as the quarter progressed. The Jazz cut it to a five-point deficit when Hayward stole the ball and fed Alec Burks for a layup, making it 45-40. Holiday drained a 3-pointer to halt the comeback and spark a 9-1 run. By the time Gordon drained a pair of free throws, the Pelicans led 54-41 with 1:58 remaining in the half.
The fatigue of playing a fourth game in five nights, not to mention the Salt Lake altitude, caught up with the Pelicans after halftime.
“We couldn’t get stops,” Evans said.