NEW ORLEANS - The good news was that the New Orleans Pelicans played very well for three-plus quarters against the Houston Rockets Wednesday night. The bad news is that they had to play four quarters.
Houston dominated down the stretch to overcome New Orleans 103-100 before a disappointed crowd of 15,918 at New Orleans Arena, extending the Pelicans losing streak to seven games.
The subject of trade rumors yet again, Eric Gordon ignored the noise and made his case to stay in New Orleans in demonstrative fashion. Gordon scored a season high 35 points, knocking down 11-of-17 from the field, including 6-of-9 from 3-point range and 7-of-8 from the free throw line. He dished out six assists in his best effort of the season though he had just two points in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 99-92, Houston closed the game on an 11-1 run in the final 3:05 to emerge victorious, stealing a game they seemed destined to lose.
James Harden took over the game late. He scored 26 points, including 12 in fourth quarter, scoring eight of team's final 11 points for Houston.
Once again, the Pelicans showed no ability to close a game or to perform with the game on the line, much less in the second half, where they have faltered all season long. After trailing 56-45 at halftime, Houston outscored New Orleans 58-44 in the second half to rally to victory.
The first four baskets of the game for the Rockets were dunks but the Pelicans responded very well.
Once again, Gordon got off to a fast start, scoring 14 points and dishing out four assists in the first quarter while Anthony Davis pumped in 10, going a perfect 4-of-4 from the field. The Pelicans came out sizzling, hitting 12-of-21 (57%) from the field in the quarter.
Davis was hit hard in the face by Dwight Howard in the second quarter, resulting in Howard's third foul with just under eight minutes to play in the half. Davis would be okay and Howard had to sit. You know things are going well when Al-Farouq Aminu hits a 3-pointer, which he did from the right corner. New Orleans built a 17 point lead at 44-27.
The Pelicans maintained a double-digit lead at 56-45 by halftime. Gordon finished the first half with 22 points while Davis had 12 points and five rebounds. New Orleans handled Houston 25-16 on the boards.
Then, the third quarter arrived, the quarter that the Pelicans have been awful in all season long. It started that way again. Davis picked up his fourth foul with just under nine minutes to play and had to come out of the game. Houston rallied to tie the game 68-68. Fortunately, Gordon remained hot, scoring 11 more in the quarter as New Orleans closed on a 13-6 run and the Pelicans maintained the lead 81-74 at by the end of the period.
Davis came back with just over nine minutes remaining and made a difference. Brian Roberts had a big 3-point play with just over three minutes left to give New Orleans a 99-92 lead, setting the stage for Houston's rally.
Harden was fouled with 57.8 seconds left. He hit both free throws to give Houston a 100-99 lead, their first lead since the first quarter. Anthony Davis then drove to the basket, drew a foul from Terrence Jones and split a pair of free throws to tie the game 100-100 with 47 seconds left.
New Orleans inserted Austin Rivers in the game for defense and Harden went right at him, nailing a step-back 15-footer to give the Rockets a 102-100 lead with 28 seconds left. Jason Smith then got an open look but missed a jumper with 11.2 seconds left with Chandler Parsons rebounding. He was only able to make 1-of-2 to extend the lead to 103-100. Darius Miller got a look for a game-tying 3-pointer but missed and Howard rebounded to put the game away.
Therein lies part of the problem. Rivers in to defend and did not. Smith and Miller taking big shots with the game on the line. Houston knew where to go with the ball late, turning it over to Harden. Even without Anderson, Holiday and Evans, you must devise a way for Gordon or Davis to get those shots late. Instead, head coach Monty Williams devised a play for Darius Miller, who scored two points on 1-of-6 shooting from the field.
"My thinking during that time is that they were all over Eric," Williams said. "He cannot get a look at the basket without getting blitzed. Darius can shoot and he got a good look at the basket. I thought it was down. I'm just thankful that he shot it with confidence. He got a good look and that is all you can ask for. Parsons does a good job defensively and they were trapping Eric."
Davis finished with 24 points and seven rebounds in 31 minutes. Brian Roberts and Jason Smith each had 10 points but they could not stop Harden when it mattered.
"We have to a better job as a team.," Roberts said. "He was not and we knew he was getting the ball. We played hard, jumping out to a good lead but we couldn't finish it. We just have to bounce back. It's tough but it's something we have to do."
Houston had five players joining Harden in double figures. Terrence Jones came up big with 25 points and eight rebounds, Chandler Parson had 17 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals, Jeremy Linn had 13 points, Howard had 12 to go with 11 rebounds and three blocks and Donatas Montiejunas added 10 points.
Once again, New Orleans struggled to defend, allowing 100 points for the sixth straight game with Houston shooting 51 percent from the field. The Rockets missed opportunities, shooting just 61 percent from the free throw line, missing 16 of 41 attempts. The Pelicans won the battle of the boards 44-38 but Houston crushed New Orleans down low, outscoring the Pelicans 58-30 in the paint.
With the win, Houston improved to 26-14. It was the seventh straight loss for the fast fading Pelicans, who fell to 15-23. It does not get any easier as the Pelicans seek to end their misery and right the ship. New Orleans will host high scoring Golden State Saturday night.
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