NEW ORLEANS — The shot clock ticked down to 3, down to 2, down to 1 and Austin Rivers, New Orleans’ second-year guard in possession of the ball, could have made another decision.
But with Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon along with Jason Smith and Ryan Anderson nowhere near the floor thanks to season-ending injuries, youth was in control.
Rivers got into the lane, rose into a cluster of Phoenix players and lofted an awkward shot, getting it to roll in through the rim.
The shot clock, however, had already ticked well past 1 and onto 0 and New Orleans never again got close to pushing the Suns.
New Orleans, which also had Anthony Davis on the bench as he continued to mend form back spasms, lost 94-88, another late-game loss painfully notched on record.
That’s the negative view.
The positive would be that the Pelicans (32-46) were within reach of upsetting the current eighth seed in the Western Conference despite missing five of their top seven scorers.
“I have nothing to complain about with our group,” coach Monty Williams said. “We held that team to 94 points. We couldn’t score in the first and third quarter, but we scrapped and played the way we like to play. Just couldn’t put the ball in the basket enough times.”
Rookie Jeff Withey, in extended minutes because of Davis’ no-go, scored a career-high 17 points. Darius Miller added 14. And Rivers filled the stat sheet with 10 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.
New Orleans’ bench put up 53 points and, without Davis, the Pelicans still outrebounded Phoenix by four.
“When star guys are out at the end of the season, some teams will cash it in and not try and go through the motions but not these guys,” Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek said. “Monty always gets his guys to play hard no matter who is out there and that’s what those guys did. Gave themselves a chance to win a game.”
Loss or not, the youth on New Orleans’ roster is getting valuable experience.
“That’s what we need,” Williams said. “We need to be able to see those guys in real game situations when you need a bucket or you need a stop to see how they respond. They did a good job tonight.”
Not that that will make Wednesday night any easier to take.
New Orleans used an 11-3 run midway through the fourth quarter to take an 82-79 lead. A Goran Dragic layup pulled Phoenix to within one and then Eric Bledsoe’s 19-foot handed the Suns the lead.
Back and forth it went for the next six possessions.
Rivers’ shot-clock violating possession was New Orleans’ best chance to make it seven possessions.
Markief Morris’ 20-foot jumper gave Phoenix a three-point lead and Gerald Green’s free-throw with 14 seconds left pushed it to four.
Now the Pelicans face a daunting task of two games each against Oklahoma City and Houston to finish the season, a tough twosome to try and end on a positive note against.
“It’s just go into the game like a normal – we’re not looking at the finish line like that,” Withey said. “We just want to finish strong and keep on getting better and keep on trying to show the fans a good time. It’s tough knowing you’re not in the playoffs. But we want to work on getting better for ourselves.”