NEW ORLEANS (AP) — After Anthony Davis’ final flurry of clutch shots, blocks and rebounds ensured the Pelicans’ first postseason berth since before he was drafted, the 22-year-old All-Star known as the “unibrow” was ready to admit how much it meant to him.
“Honestly, I know I all told ya’ll before this game it didn’t mean nothing, but I tried to downplay it because I didn’t want to get too excited,” Davis said. “It meant a lot — and we played like it meant something.
“We played our hearts out.”
In the biggest game of his three-year NBA career, Davis had 31 points and 13 rebounds, and the New Orleans earned its first playoff berth since 2011 with a 108-103 victory over San Antonio on Wednesday night.
Davis, who’ll make his playoff debut against Golden State next weekend, came through in the waning minutes with a pair of clutch jumpers, two blocks and two rebounds to prevent the Spurs from pulling off a 23-point comeback.
“We went to A.D. down the stretch and he came through on both ends of the floor,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said, calling Davis’ block of Borris Diaw’s late shot “phenomenal.”
Tony Parker had 23 points and Diaw 20 for San Antonio, which needed to win to secure the second seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
The loss ended the Spurs’ 11-game winning streak and prevented them from winning their fifth straight Southwest Division title. Instead, they dropped down to the sixth seed because Houston and Memphis won.
“It’s been a crazy season, crazy West,” Parker said. “We had a good opportunity, winning 11 games in a row and in second place” in the West entering the last game.
Tyreke Evans had 19 points and 11 assists, and Eric Gordon added 14 points for New Orleans, which had to win to make the postseason because Oklahoma City also won in Minnesota. The teams finished with identical records, but the Pelicans held the tiebreaker by virtue of winning three of four against the Thunder, including one victory on Davis’ last-second 3 in Oklahoma City.
Jrue Holiday, in only his third game back from a lower right leg injury that sidelined him three months, added 11 points, capped by clutch free throws with 9.5 seconds left.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich didn’t seem to take the loss too hard. He walked toward New Orleans’ bench to find his former player and assistant, Pelicans coach Monty Williams, and allowed a slight smile during an extended embrace. Several players also sought out Williams to congratulate him.
“We’re happy for him, very happy for him,” Tim Duncan said about Williams. “He’s worked his butt off over these past couple years. … Obviously, I wanted to win and that didn’t change anything, but I guess I get some solace in the fact that he made the playoffs.”
Duncan had 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Kawhi Leonard added 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Spurs.
While New Orleans controlled most of the first three quarters, leading by 23 in the second and as much as 18 in the third, back-to-back 3s by Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills cut it to 82-71 heading into the fourth.
Then Mills hit a jumper as he was fouled just seconds into the final period, cutting it to eight.
The crowd’s transition from jubilation to tension was evident when Diaw’s driving layup pulled the Spurs as close as 86-82 with 7:38 left, but the Pelicans responded with the resilience that had gotten them this far.
They came up with a series of defensive stops, and driving layups by Gordon and Evans helped push their lead back to 11.
“Since I’ve been in the league, I haven’t had a chance to play for anything, so tonight I wasn’t going to let nothing take it away,” said Evans, who like Gordon and Davis had never been on a playoff team.
Gordon later added a clutch 3, and Davis a baseline jumper as the shot clock expired with 1:36 left to keep the Spurs at arm’s length.
Spurs: Duncan finished the regular season with 33 double-doubles. … The Spurs finished 22-19 on the road.
Pelicans: The Pelicans beat the Spurs in three of four meetings, winning a season series over San Antonio for the first time since New Orleans became an NBA city for the second time in 2002-03.
Williams had urged his young team to soak in the big-game environment and embrace it.
New Orleans shot 68 percent (15 of 22) in the first quarter, working the crowd into a frenzy with a slew of highlights, including Davis’ breakaway dunk after he’d corralled a loose ball at mid-court.
New Orleans’ lead reached 20 less than a minute into the second quarter, when Holiday’s 3 made it 39-19.
Parker had 16 points in the first half, which he closed with a jumper as time expired to trim San Antonio’s deficit to 63-47.
“That first half was the worst we’ve played in a long time,” Popovich said. “The Pelicans were on fire. They were committed. They were playing hard. They had a lot to play for and it showed.”
Spurs: Visit the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday to open the playoffs.
Pelicans: Visit the Warriors on Saturday to open the playoffs.
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