For five years, Anthony Davis was one of many stars in need of some support. Year after year, Pelicans’ brass just wasn’t doing enough to surround their once-in-a-lifetime talent to help New Orleans make the playoffs.
In 2015, New Orleans made the playoffs for the first time in Davis’s career—only to be swept by the Golden State Warriors.
After that, two more seasons went by with the Pelicans’ season-ending mid-April—watching the postseason from home.
New Orleans has Davis locked in through the 2019-20 season, but every poor move they made, the deeper they dug their own grave. If smarter decisions weren’t made, Davis would likely look elsewhere when that contract expires.
Just before the 2017 trade deadline, the Pelicans made a move to show Davis they’re doing everything they can to make him a winner: trading for DeMarcus Cousins.
His addition wasn’t enough to help New Orleans make the playoffs last season, but they were on their way this season. Then, Cousins got hurt. It seemed as if the Pelicans and Davis were going to miss the playoffs again.
A few days after Cousins’ injury, New Orleans made a move that would end up having a huge impact on its season. Dealing away this year’s first round pick, Omer Asik, Tony Allen and Jameer Nelson, New Orleans acquired Nikola Mirotic (and a second round pick) from Chicago.
Mirotic was solid for New Orleans in the weeks after the trade, but Alvin Gentry and his coaching staff experimented to see if they were better off having him start or come off the bench behind Emeka Okafor.
Interestingly enough as the roster was in flux, with players going down due to injury and new guys getting signed to replace them, Davis was making some interesting comments of his own. He was sending subtle messages to the Pelicans front office, and the NBA as a whole. He noticed what someone like Kevin Garnett did before him. There’s only so much time you can give to a franchise before you decide enough is enough.
Gentry settled on Mirotic as the starter for the last week of the regular season, and he repaid him by averaging 25.8 points and 12 rebounds in that five-game stretch. New Orleans won all five of those games, locking them into the sixth seed in the West and a first round matchup with Portland.
New Orleans was the lower seed, but they had one major advantage coming into this series: Davis. No one in the league can really guard Davis, but Portland definitely didn’t have anyone. Davis could do anything in this series if he wanted to.
Game 1 in Portland, Davis pretty much did do anything he wanted—35 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks and two steals. New Orleans won, 97-95.
Davis undoubtedly led the way in his first-ever playoff victory, but he didn’t do it alone. Jrue Holiday, whom many considered to be overpaid after signing a five-year, $125 million deal in the summer, came through with 21 points, seven boards and two huge defensive plays to clinch the game—including this block.
Mirotic added 16 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks. Rajon Rondo had six points, eight rebounds and 17 assists. Ian Clark had 10 points off the bench.
Davis having this much support was not a Game 1 mirage, either.
The game in which Davis received the most help was arguably the most important: Game 2. After taking Game 1 in Portland, New Orleans had a chance to go up 2-0 before even playing at home.
Davis played 40 minutes in Game 2 but put up a modest (for him) 22 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks and two steals. And most important, he didn’t score at all in the fourth quarter.
New Orleans entered the final frame with a seven-point lead. In the past, the Pelicans would most likely lose the lead without Davis carrying the load.
This time, though, it was Holiday, Mirotic and Rondo once again—and they ended up pulling off a nine-point victory, taking a 2-0 series lead.
In Game 3, it was Mirotic leading the way with 30 points, eight boards and three steals. Holiday and Rondo had 16 points each.
Davis led the way in Game 4 with 47 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. Holiday had himself a 40-bomb as well with 41 points alongside eight assists.
Many the Blazers to win, and only diehard Pelicans fans could see a sweep forthcoming. No one could have seen the consistent efforts from Rondo, Holiday and Mirotic forthcoming, however.
For the first time in his career, Davis has a group around him that fits well together and can carry their own weight when they need to. Davis will have to carry the load here and there, sure, and he will still have to be “the guy” moving forward. But now, Davis can lean on those around him on the nights he just doesn’t have it.
Likely to see Golden State in the next round, New Orleans will need that balanced attack that allowed them to get past Portland with such swiftness. Holiday’s All-NBA defensive play this season along with Mirotic’s newfound chops on that end may allow them to keep up with the defending champions, especially if Stephen Curry misses a game or more.
It took six seasons, but Davis finally has help—and it makes him and the Pelicans as a whole that much scarier moving forward.