NEW ORLEANS -- Even as his numbers climbed past season highs and toward what he said was “probably” the best game of his NBA career, and even after setting the interwebs into a tizzy after stonewalling LeBron James on a crucial crunch-time possession, Terrence Jones couldn’t shake a sense of unease.
“I just kept looking at the clock, hoping that we got the win,” Jones said. “I did not want to have 36 [points] and lose, man.”
The New Orleans Pelicans put up a season-best 70 points in the first half on the reigning NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers without Anthony Davis, their All-Star wunderkind who leads the team in points, rebounds, blocks, steals and so much more.
But it’s hard to get too comfortable when that same team nearly sets a franchise record for points allowed to the last-place Nets, even with Davis (albeit a hobbled version) on the court.
It didn’t exactly prove unfounded, either, as Kyrie Irving kept the Cavaliers in Monday night's game by scoring 35 of his 49 points in the second half, helping them trim their deficit to three with about two minutes to play.
The Pelicans were able to hang on by weathering Irving’s late-game heroics and limiting an unusually slow-moving James for a 124-122 win, marking the Cavs’ sixth straight loss at the Big Blender. But even though they couldn’t put a finger on how the same team goes from being blown out by the worst team to beating one of the best -- without their own superstar -- in the span of three days, the disparity wasn’t lost on the Pelicans, either.
“You have to keep in perspective the game the other night,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “I think it would have been tougher if we had made some shots and done some things and lost at the end. But [Friday] was one of those games that we were never really in that game. After that first quarter, we were never in that game.
“It’s kind of one of those things that happens in the NBA, so that’s why ... some of those you just have to flush down the toilet and go on to the next game. I was just happy tonight how we responded.”
Though Jones’ ball skills and athleticism have allowed him to adequately serve as Davis’ understudy before, with the 25-year-old averaging 22.7 points and 8.7 rebounds in three games this season without his former Kentucky teammate, Gentry was quick to note that it still isn’t easy to take on Davis’ burden, especially when it comes to creating your own offense.
But the 6-foot-9, 255-pound Jones did as good of a Davis impersonation as possible, tying a career high with 36 points on 13-of-18 shooting to go with 11 rebounds and three blocks. He also made 3 of 4 3-point attempts.
“We just didn’t respect them,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “Terrence Jones got it going early. We know he’s not a great 3-point shooter, but once he scored 15 of the first 19 points, you think you got it going. We couldn’t control him after that.”
Said Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday: “He can hoop, man. He gets into the paint, he takes his time, he gets what he wants. That slow pump-fake he gets once or twice a game, that he thinks is best in the world. And he came out and knocked down 3-point shots, too. … Oh, and he’s protecting the rim. He’s done a little bit of everything. I was glad he was on our side tonight.”
While Jones provided most of the highlights, Holiday served as the steady hand.
The 26-year-old came into the game averaging just 13.8 points per contest, the lowest since his rookie season, but he looked like the dynamic All-Star the team traded for to ride the sidecar next to Davis in putting up a season-high 33 points, 10 assists and six rebounds.
“I had everything [going], to be honest,” he said.
And as he goes, so go the Pelicans. New Orleans, though nine games under .500, is now 16-14 with Holiday in the lineup.
Whether or not the Pelicans will ride that into a playoff berth remains to be seen. But after showing the ability to bounce back from the bottom all the way to their peak, having one or two more good games than bad ones might be all that’s necessary to emerge in the slap fight for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff seed.