A stacked Western Conference. A pair of shoulder injuries. A consistently depleted roster. Youth. Inexperience. And the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. None of it could stop Anthony Davis from leading the New Orleans Pelicans to the playoffs.
Led by an epic 31-point, 13-rebound, 3-block performance from its precocious franchise cornerstone, New Orleans beat San Antonio 108-103 on Monday to clinch its first postseason berth since 2011.
The Pelicans hardly seemed nervous by the stakes of their season finale. Spurred on by a raucous, red-clad Smoothie King Center crowd, the home team raced out to a 54-31 lead over Gregg Popovich and company with several minutes remaining before halftime. Davis was making his typical impact on both ends, Tyreke Evans was cooking, and reserve guard Norris Cole was providing major a spark off the New Orleans bench.
But the Spurs never die. After quietly trimming the Pelicans’ halftime lead from 16 to 11 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, San Antonio put major pressure on Monty Williams’ squad by closing the gap to 85-80 with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter.
In a game featuring the likes of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and the ascendant Kawhi Leonard, though, it was the Pelicans who possessed the best player. Davis scored eight points, grabbed six boards, and blocked two shots after his team’s huge lead was cut to five, ensuring the Spurs never made it a one-possession contest.
And true to the easily forgotten ethos that marked his “can’t-miss” reputation as a draft prospect, Davis’ biggest play of the night came on the defensive end. His swat of Boris Diaw with 35 seconds left kept San Antonio from making it a two-possession game, effectively sealing the win and his first career playoff appearance in the process.
What do Davis and the Pelicans get for their feat? A first round date with the juggernaut Golden State Warriors that begins on Saturday in Oakland.
It goes without saying that New Orleans’ chances against basketball’s best regular season team are slim. Jrue Holiday is still getting acclimated after being sidelined for most of the new year; Ryan Anderson has yet to find his shooting groove since missing March’s majority; and the favorite boasts the likely MVP and the league’s top home court advantage.
No matter what happens over the next two weeks, though, we’ll always remember The Brow leading his team to victory in a must-win game against the NBA’s gold standard.