Pelicans hold off Hawks, 106-105

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NEW ORLEANS — After climbing over the .500 mark for the first time in the Alvin Gentry era, the New Orleans Pelicans were looking to get their record even at the Smoothie King Center with a win over the lowly Atlanta Hawks.

The Pelicans overcame 19 turnovers and rode the hot shooting of E’Twaun Moore and Darius Miller to escape with a 106-105 victory. New Orleans has won five of its last six games.

Miller scored a career-high 21 points and Moore tied his career high with 24, as the Hawks surrounded Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins for most of the night. The Pelicans’ superstar frontcourt duo was good as they tallied 35 points, 26 rebounds, 14 assists, five steals, and four blocks. However, without Moore’s shooting early and Miller’s shooting late, the Pelicans would be 2-4 at home instead of 3-3.

The night was especially gratifying for Miller, who was orginally drafted by the Pelicans in the second round of the 2012 draft and spent the last two seasons overseas. He scored 14 of the Pels’ final 18 points.

“I feel like all of us get a lot of open shots,” said Miller. “(Davis and Cousins) demand so much attention, we just gotta knock them down. I got into a rhythm tonight.”

His biggest shot of the night came with 55 seconds remaining in the game. Jrue Holiday was dribbling on the left side of the court when Taurean Prince knocked the ball loose. Fortunately, it bounced right into Miller’s waiting hands. He rose and fired from the corner, making his fifth three-pointer of the night, and giving the Pelicans a 106-104. It proved to be the game winner.

“That was lucky,” Miller said of his big shot. “I don’t know how it got to me but I was ready to shoot it.”

The Hawks came into the game losers of 11 of their last 12 and tied with Dallas for the worst record in the NBA, but they didn’t play that way against the Pelicans. Atlanta took advantage of the Pelicans’ sloppy play early and opened the game with a 13-5 run. New Orleans allowed the Hawks to get out into transition by committing three turnovers during that stretch, finishing with six in the quarter.

Former New Orleans Hornet Marco Belinelli led the charge, scoring eight points in the first 12 minutes and helping the Hawks take a 32-23 lead. For the Pelicans, it was the sixth quarter in which they allowed at least 30 points in their last five games.

The most notable thing about the quarter in the Pelicans favor was the return of Rajon Rondo. Rondo, who missed the first 12 games of the season recovering from surgery, was a gametime decision and played just under five minutes. His impact was immediate. On his first two possessions, he scored a layup off a feed from Cousins and then returned the favor by hitting Cousins up top for an assist on a three.

“It was a great feeling just to be out there with my teammates, instead of cheering the entire game,” said Rondo. “I got my feet wet…We’ll see how my body responds tomorrow morning.”

While the Pelicans were still turning the ball over in the second quarter, they were able to do a much better job defensively; holding the Hawks to 18 points on 35 percent shooting. Moore scored nine in the quarter, going 4-of-5 from the floor. He was able to attack the rim and score off cuts as Atlanta continued to clamp down on the Pelicans’ big men. New Orleans still trailed at the half, 50-45.

New Orleans continued to chip away at the deficit in the third quarter. The Pelicans caught fire offensively, shooting 15-21 and scoring 33 points. Davis, Cousins, Moore, Jrue Holiday and Jameer Nelson combined to make 14 of their 16 attempts.

Meanwhile, the Hawks were relying on their outside shooting to hold New Orleans at bay. Atlanta made eight of their season-high 17 three-pointers in the quarter. Reserve Tyler Cavanaugh, who finished with a career-high 16 points, was a perfect 3-for-3 from distance as the Hawks posted 30 points, and carried a narrow 80-78 lead into the fourth.

Cousins opened the fourth with four consecutive points to give the Pelicans an 82-80 lead at the 10:46 mark. Kent Bazmore, who led the Hawks with 22 points, and John Collins scored four points each as Atlanta went on a quick 8-1 spurt to retake the lead.

Then it was Miller time. First, Anthony Davis hit Miller for an 18-footer to cut the deficit to three. Moments later Miller knocked down a three to tie the score at 92 with just under six minutes to play. After a jumper by E’Twaun Moore gave the Pelicans a two-point lead, Miller pushed it to five with another triple.

Atlanta put together a 9-0 run, bookended by three-pointers from Bazemore and Cavanaugh, to give the Hawks a 101-97 lead with 2:41 remaining in regulation. But the Pelicans closed the game with three pointers on three consecutive possessions; two by Miller and one by Holiday.

Bazemore had an opportunity to tie the game with 37 seconds to go, but he missed the first of two free throws. Atlanta was given a chance at a game winner after Anthony Davis commited his fifth turnover of the night with 0.7 seconds on the clock, but Holiday defelcted just enough of Bazemore’s three point attempt as time expired to seal the deal.

It was another in a string of hard-earned wins by the Pelicans whose average margin of victory this season has been just under eight points. If you take away the 22-point win over the Cavs, that margin shrinks to 5.7 points per game. But, the team is still 8-6 and in the thick of the Western Conference playoff hunt. Ugly or not, as of right now the Pelicans are a winning team.

“I hope we get ugly as hell if we continue to win,” said Gentry. “Obviously, eventually you’re going to be have to be able to execute and do some things, and really get rid of the turnovers.”
“The fact that we’re playing bad and we’re still winning is a good sign,” added Davis. “We’re gonna take the wins. We know how hard it is to get wins in this league, so we’ll take them how they come no matter what the score.”

The Pelicans will try to extend their winning streak to three games on Wednesday and exact a little revenge when they face Toronto Raptors at the Smoothie King Center. The Raptors snapped the Pels’ three-game win streak with a 122-118 win last week. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.

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David Grubb

Sports 1280am host/CCS reporter

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David Grubb has more than a decade of experience in the sports industry. He began his career with KLAX-TV in Alexandria, La. and followed that up with a stint as an reporter and anchor with WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass. After spending a few years away from the industry, David worked as sports information director for Southern University at New Orleans…

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