Anthony Davis was just about to blow out the candles, with his first career triple-double as a present waiting nearby.
But Donovan Mitchell barged in, stole the cake and flipped over the table. Mitchell and the Utah Jazz spoiled Davis’ 25th birthday party, rolling to a 116-99 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday afternoon in the Smoothie King Center.
While Davis still kept the triple-double by tallying 25 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocks, it came in the Pelicans’ second consecutive loss, both at home, on the heels of a 10-game winning streak.
“We lost so I don’t really care about a career high or nothing like that,” Davis said.
The skid drops New Orleans from the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference standings. It also trims their cushion from the outside of the playoffs nearly into oblivion.
“Of course, home court is always nice but then again we are a better road team,” Davis said. “Once you get in the playoffs, anything can happen. That’s our goal. To get in the playoffs and then worry about whoever or wherever we play.”
And Utah is providing the majority of the pressure on that front, charging from the No. 10 spot and steamrolling toward the postseason. The Jazz picked up their 11th consecutive road win, two of which occurred in New Orleans, pulling within 1.5 games of the Pelicans.
“I know we are all clustered together and you can drive yourself crazy looking at it on a per game, per team basis,” center Emeka Okafor said. “We just have to try to stay even-keeled and just play.”
Both teams seemed to be fighting off the effects of daylight savings time in the early-going. Neither team was able to eclipse 35-percent shooting in the first quarter, as Davis and Jazz center Rudy Gobert closed off their respective paints.
It created a rare defensive tussle for the Pelicans, who were sucked into the Jazz’s style. The NBA’s leading defensive unit preferred a slower pace and a game reliant on half-court possessions.
Yet, New Orleans was able to thrive in it for nearly three quarters, building a nine-point second-half lead by controlling the interior and keeping the Jazz offense nearly silent.
That’s when Mitchell arrived and turned up the volume.
The clear-cut Rookie of the Year favorite scored the Jazz’s final 15 points of the third quarter and flipped the tenor of the game on its head. No matter who the Pelicans threw in front of him, Mitchell either stepped back to shoot over them or blew by on a dribble drive.
When Mitchell wasn’t beating them, it was Ricky Rubio, who posted a game-best 30 points, torching the Pelicans on the other end of the backcourt.
Together, they unglued the rest of the Jazz’s offense.
While Davis provided a career-best 10 blocks and fended off the paint for as long as he could, the onslaught simply never stopped. The Pelicans’ couldn’t cut off penetration and allowed 17 offensive rebounds, nullifying the stoic 41.7 percent field goal rate surrendered.
“We just have to get stops and we have to rebound the ball,” guard E’Twaun Moore said. “The rebounding has really been hurting us.”
It’s what several players pointed to as a cause for the game’s grinding pace. But, Pelicans’ coach Alvin Gentry wasn’t buying it.
New Orleans led in the NBA in possessions per game during their 10-game winning streak, posting at least 110 points per game, but have slowed considerably since the start of March.
These losses to Washington and Utah marked the first time the Pelicans have failed to crack the 100-point barrier in consecutive games since Nov. 4.
“No, they did not,” Gentry said when asked if the Jazz did anything in particular to upend the Pelicans’ full-court style. “I don’t think anyone can slow your pace down. That’s the thing I do understand. We have to go back to our pace ourselves. It’s not that they’re slowing us down.
“They can take as much time as they want on their end, but on our end, we have to get the ball and get running again.”