NEW ORLEANS — Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans found a way to win convincingly despite an early 17-point hole.
Now they’ll have another substantial hurdle to overcome at a crucial juncture of the season: the loss of guard Eric Gordon to a fractured ring finger on his shooting hand.
Davis scored 35 points and the Pelicans used a dominant second half to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 114-99 on Tuesday night for New Orleans’ third victory in four games. But Davis wasn’t about to absolve his team for the way it started the game.
"That first half was kind of terrible," Davis said. "They were outworking us and playing harder than us and we just wanted to change that in the second half, so we came out with a lot of energy.
"We kind of played with desperation," Davis added, "but we can’t wait until we’re down to start playing with desperation."
Gordon scored 11 points, including two 3-pointers, before leaving late in the third quarter. It isn’t clear yet when his right ring finger will heal enough for him to play again, but the Pelicans sound certain that he’ll be missed. Gordon has averaged about 15 points this season, hitting 101 3-pointers.
"He brings a lot to the table," Davis said. "He’s shooting the ball well and it’s going to be tough without him, but we’ve still got to find a way to win."
Jrue Holiday, who could wind up back in the starting lineup because of Gordon’s injury, scored 19 points. Tyreke Evans added 13 for the Pelicans, now four games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with their next six games at home.
Andrew Wiggins scored 21 points and Karl-Anthony Towns added 20 points and 13 rebounds for Minnesota, which has lost 10 of 11. Ricky Rubio added 15 points, but the Timberwolves were outscored 63-39 in the second half.
Minnesota coach Sam Mitchell said the problem for his team in the second half was a lack of ball-movement as players increasingly looked to score instead of buckling down defensively or helping create open shots for teammates. Rubio agreed.
"We started to get selfish," Rubio said. "When we play hard on defence and can run, that is our style of game."
New Orleans surged to its first lead with a 14-2, third-quarter run that began with a 3 by former Minnesota player Dante Cunningham and ended with Gordon’s 3, making it 65-64.
The Pelicans wound up outscoring the Wolves 31-15 in the third quarter, which ended with the Pelicans scoring four points inside the last 3 seconds — first with Holiday hitting a 15-foot pull-up, then with Cunningham stealing Nemanja Bjelica’s inbound pass and sprinting in for a layup just before the horn sounded.
Minnesota’s Gorgui Deng, standing under the hoop, caught the ball as it came through the net and disgustedly slammed it off the court.
"That was a game-changing momentum-builder for us," Davis said. "It got all of us going and got us off the bench and got us hyped going into the fourth quarter."
Cunningham hit three 3-pointers and finished with 11 points in his 12th start this season.
The Timberwolves looked their best in the opening quarter, racing to their largest lead when Bjelica’s tip-in of Zach LaVine’s miss made it 38-21.
Towns had nine points and seven rebounds before the period ended.
Ryan Anderson was called for a foul late in the first half despite appearing to take the worst of a collision with Kevin Garnett away from the ball. Officials reviewed video of the incident, upholding their initial call as boos rained down from fans who could also see the replay showing Anderson’s head recoiling from a blow to face by Garnett’s forearm.
"Obviously he was doing little tactics to get me frustrated," Anderson said. "He’s just really good at getting away with stuff like that. I’m not saying he’s like a ridiculously dirty player. He just has that physical type of game."
Timberwolves: Reserve centre Nikola Pekovic, who did not make his season debut until Jan. 6 because of right Achilles tendon surgery last April 8, was given the night off to rest. … Minnesota was shooting 72.2 per cent after the first quarter (13 of 18), but went 23 of 58 (39.7 per cent) the rest of the way to finish at 47.4 per cent.
Pelicans: Davis has eclipsed 30 points seven times this season, with a season-high of 43 (which also tied his career high). … The Pelicans have won six straight against Minnesota.
Timberwolves: Visit Dallas on Wednesday night.
Pelicans: Host Detroit on Thursday night.