NEW ORLEANS -- When DeMarcus Cousins went down with a torn Achilles in January, one of the NBA's most promising big threes was dismantled -- and it looked like the Pelicans' playoff hopes would crumble, as well.
But the remaining big two of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday just responded with one of the greatest two-man playoff performances in NBA history to cap a stunning sweep of the third-seeded Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday.
Davis (47 points) and Holiday (41) tied the NBA record for most points ever scored by a duo in a single game in NBA playoff history, joining John Havlicek and Jo Jo White in 1973, according to Elias Sports Bureau research.
It was one point better than Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen ever produced in a playoff game. And Davis and Holiday joined LeBron James and Kyrie Irving as the only pair of teammates to score 40-plus points in the same playoff game in the past 18 years.
Davis and Holiday scored 28 of the Pelicans' final 29 points in the fourth quarter, as New Orleans completed the sweep with a 131-123 victory.
"Their stars really put on a show tonight," said Blazers coach Terry Stotts, whose team had valiantly cut New Orleans' 15-point lead down to one point with five minutes remaining -- to no avail.
"We put the ball in these guys' hands and they delivered for us," said Pelicans point guard Rajon Rondo, who lived up to his own "Playoff Rondo" reputation with 53 assists in the four-game series.
Rondo had Davis and Holiday laughing and mocking him a bit as they sat on the postgame podium together and Rondo ranked their performance as only one of the four or five best he had seen from teammates in his career.
But Davis also credited the veteran floor general, who joined New Orleans as a free agent last summer, for constantly being in their ears this week and insisting that this is their time to "be great."
"It's a great feeling for me to go out and, like [Rondo] said, 'Build your legacy. Be great.' So it was a great time for me to show that," said Davis, who acknowledged earlier this week that it would "mean a lot" to that growing legacy to win his first playoff series after the Pelicans got swept by the Golden State Warriors in his only other postseason appearance in 2015.
"I just tried to go out every game and play to the best of my ability so I can help the team win," Davis said. "Just trying to build a legacy in New Orleans, and let people know that we're for real."
Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry offered much loftier praise for Davis, who lifted his game to an MVP level while winning NBA Player of the Month in each of the last two months of the regular season.
"In a close-out game and with the magnitude of the situation, this was probably the best game he's played since I've been here," Gentry said. "He just was not gonna let us lose."
Davis was especially feeling the moment when he drained 3-pointers in both the third and fourth quarters -- the latter of which came after Portland had cut the lead to two points with 4:34 remaining. But his inside game was working just fine, too. He also made the Smoothie King Center erupt with an emphatic putback dunk after Portland had again cut the lead to two with 3:12 remaining.
Holiday drained a 3 of his own when Portland cut the lead to two points one final time one possession later.
Holiday has proved his worth with the best season of his nine-year career after signing a five-year, $126 million contract last summer. He scored 33 points in Game 2 and averaged 27.8 points in the four-game series against Portland.
On the flip side was dejected Blazers star Damian Lillard, who was held to 20 points or less in every game of the series while shooting 35.2 percent against a stifling New Orleans defense that was determined to take the ball out of his hands.
Lillard and Davis embraced after the game, and Lillard showed great respect for his fellow star afterward.
"I'm sure it meant a lot. In our six years previous to this year, he had only been to the playoffs once. And they played Golden State and got swept. You know, he's had it hard," said Lillard, who was picked five spots after Davis became the No. 1 overall selection in the 2012 draft. "I couldn't imagine what it's like going all these years with not being able to compete in the postseason when you're that level of player. So I congratulate him. I wish his success hadn't come against us, but at the end of the day, as a competitor, you can't be a poor sport. You've gotta give credit where it's due."
Lillard and the Blazers have made the playoffs in each of the past five years -- but they haven't made it past the second round, and they have now been swept in the first round for the second straight year.
"I think this one probably hurt a little bit more, just because we had such a great season and we came in with really, really high expectations," Lillard said. "We expected more from ourselves, and we saw things going in a different direction than they did."