NEW ORLEANS — The first win as the New Orleans Pelicans will have to wait.
Indiana refused to play the part of a patsy, relying instead on veteran experience and calm demeanor to overcome a 16-point deficit for a 95-90 win.
“They took the game,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “I just didn’t think that we had an understanding of the moment in the fourth quarter. Some of our possessions were just vanilla possessions where we just jacked up a couple of shots that the guys who took the shots probably thought to themselves that ‘I could’ve got something better.’ ”
Still, New Orleans (0-1) had a chance to win in the first game with the rebranded mascot, Pierre.
After giving up the 16-point and then a nine-point lead, the game swung in a 30-second span.
First, former New Orleans forward David West, who finished with 12 points and seven rebounds, sank two free throws, the second which gave Indiana its first lead since the early moments of the first quarter.
Then he blocked Anthony Davis, who had 20 points and 12 rebounds, on an attempt that would have handed the lead right back to New Orleans.
On the ensuing Indiana (2-0) possession, the Pacers turned to George Hill, who lofted a game-clinching 3-pointer as the shot clock rang. First-year Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday was guarding Hill, but couldn’t close down fast enough to redirect the shot.
“I should have been a little bit closer,” said Holiday, who finished with 24 points and five assists in his New Orleans debut. “He’s hit big shots before. He’s definitely a guy we don’t want to take that shot.”
Said Hill, who had 19 points in the winning effort, “I’d seen Jrue back up a little bit just to play the passing lane and I had that rhythm. We were up one, we had good rebound position because both bigs were down low and I just took a chance.”
The shot put Indiana up 89-85 with 31.1 seconds to play and the Pelicans couldn’t claw back close enough.
The Pacers hit six straight free throws to close out the win.
And to think, it started out so well.
The Pelicans built a 50-36 halftime lead on the strength of smooth shooting – 46.3 percent in the first half behind Eric Gordon’s 15 points and Holiday’s 12 – and tough defense, holding Indiana (2-0) to just 35 percent from the floor.
But mirroring the old bugaboo from a season ago, New Orleans came out of halftime flat.
Indiana did not and used a 10-2 run to cut the Pelicans’ lead to six points in the third quarter, beginning a comeback.
Gordon and Holiday, the offensive rabble-rousers in the first half, were just 2 of 10 in the third quarter.
“Give those guys (the Pacers) credit,” Williams said. “They played playoff basketball tonight. They didn’t panic when they got down early. I explained that to our guys at halftime that they are going to come out with a playoff-type atmosphere effort.
“They are used to it. We are not. That is something that we have to understand.”