PORTLAND, Ore. — Anthony Davis has delivered many impressive performances, but his terrific showing Saturday night came with a first: a playoff victory.
Building off his strong finish to the regular season, Davis had 35 points, 14 rebounds, 4 blocks and 2 steals to lead the New Orleans Pelicans to a 97-95 Game 1 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. It was the Pelicans’ first postseason win since 2011 and the first of Davis’ six-year career.
“It means a lot to get that monkey off your back and get your first win,” Davis said. “Now that’s over with, and we want to come in Tuesday and get another one. That’s our mindset. But feels good to get that first win.”
Davis scored 11 points in the fourth quarter to help New Orleans withstand a Portland rally, and he had two rebounds and made four clinching free throws in the game’s final 12 seconds. It was the finishing touches on a motivated performance that saw Davis sprawl on the court repeatedly as he chased loose balls.
“I think it’s very important to him that we found a way to win, not just the game, but he wants to win the series,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “He said he’s going to do everything he possibly can to help us do that.”
Davis got help from his fellow star Jrue Holiday, who delivered 21 points and seven rebounds. More important, he was part of a stout defensive effort on Blazers guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. They combined to shoot 1-of-15 in the first half and just 13-of-41 for the game as Gentry constructed a game plan aimed at swarming the Blazers’ stars and leaving others open. In the final 15 seconds, Holiday made two crucial defensive stops. He smothered Lillard on a drive in the lane, forcing a miss. Then he finished the Blazers off with a blocked shot on Pat Connaughton.
“I was hyped. I take pride in my defense, especially guarding all these great guards,” Holiday said. “That’s why we play the game. It’s fun, but it’s tough.”
The Blazers had several opportunities to tie the score in the final 10 seconds, down only three points. But they never got off a 3-pointer to try to tie and twice ran plays out of timeouts that set up Meyers Leonard and Connaughton instead of Lillard or McCollum.
Portland coach Terry Stotts said Lillard and McCollum were the first options, but New Orleans’ defense took them out of the plays.
“We did get a fair amount of good looks, we just didn’t knock them down,” said Lillard, who finished with 18 points. “I think it puts some pressure on us. You come in with home court, the first two games are on your floor and you lose. And now they’re saying in their locker room, ‘We got one, why not get another.'”