When Anthony Davis is around, a sense of inevitability takes over basketball games.
The All-Star forward from New Orleans proclaimed himself the “best player in the game” in September and has backed it up in October. If shutting him down is a pipe dream, saying a prayer is required to even make him uncomfortable. Just ask the Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings, who allowed Davis to shoot 63.6% in New Orleans’ first two games this season, as he averaged 28.5 points, 13.0 rebounds and 2.5 blocks to fuel the most prolific offense in the league so far.
“He’s AD, he’s not going anywhere,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “You know eventually he’s going to get it going.”
Davis made sure of that Tuesday in the Pelicans’ 116-109 victory over Los Angeles.
After a Davis dunk with 4:51 remaining in the fourth quarter extended New Orleans’ lead to seven, he floated a six-foot jumper over Tobias Harris to widen the lead. As Rivers called a timeout and a sparse Smoothie King Center crowd of 14,625 yelled, Davis bounced upcourt and lowered the palm of his right hand until it reached his shin.
Translated: The Clippers were too small to stop him.
Despite a poor-shooting first half in which he made three of 10 shots, Davis finished with 34 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks and played his best when it mattered with 19 second-half points. In that way, the night unfolded to form.
Yet the Clippers (2-2) left the arena for a red-eye to Houston with an edge in their tone because for all of Davis’ ability to overwhelm a game, this one was no foregone conclusion.
Not until the Clippers’ mistakes proved too much to overcome.
“We just got into this frenetic pace we couldn’t get out of,” Rivers said.
One of the Clippers’ few productive passes of the final quarter was when reserve forward Mike Scott spotted Jrue Holiday’s loose Kobe A.D. sneaker on the court and tossed it into the stands behind the basket to take the Pelicans guard out of the play.
Harris scored a team-high 26 points, Danilo Gallinari scored 24 and Williams added 17 off the bench. Beverley finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, his first double-double as a Clipper.
The Pelicans led the league in pace last season and ranked third entering the game, but the Clippers felt their mistakes led to their undoing.
“We were rushing, we were trying to come up with our own stuff, we didn’t really follow the schemes we were supposed to do,” center Marcin Gortat said. “That’s what happened. That’s how you turn the ball over. That’s how you lose a game.”
It spoiled what was otherwise an encouraging game for a defense that limited the league’s best offense to 39.6% shooting in the first half. The Pelicans had scored 30 points or more in eight consecutive quarters, then saw that snapped after one quarter.
“Defensively, we were good,” Rivers said.
As the Pelicans struggled, the Clippers thrived, shooting 48.9%, their best in a first half this season.
The early trends did not hold.
Davis eventually found the weak points in the Clippers’ defensive rotation. Gortat tried. Gallinari tried. Harris, Luc Mbah a Moute and Montrezl Harrell too.
“[Davis] did a good job, especially being patient out there because there were times we felt like we had him and then they’d just run another action and he was in it,” Harris said. “He’s a tough cover.”
A smaller Clippers frontcourt featuring Mbah a Moute, Gallinari and Harris created opportunities offensively by spreading the floor and drawing Davis out of the lane for help defense, yet they couldn’t take advantage, shooting two of 12 from three-point range in the second half.
The smaller lineup, Rivers said, was “the only silver lining tonight.”