NEW ORLEANS – Anthony Davis sat on the court, a scowl on his face and his biceps flexed on each side of his head.
The Pelicans center had just converted a layup as he fell to the court after a hard foul. His strength-projecting celebration afterward was that of an All-Star determined lay the foundation of his playoff legacy with dominant performance in the clutch.
“In a close-out game and then the magnitude of the situation, this is probably the best game he’s played since I’ve been here,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “He just was not going to let us lose.”
Davis scored 33 of his franchise playoff-record 47 points in the second half – including 12 points in the final five minutes – and New Orleans completed a first-round playoff sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers with a 131-123 victory on Saturday.
“It was fun,” Davis said. “It was an amazing feeling for me to go out and sweep these guys and play the way that I played.”
And when Davis wasn’t devastating the Blazers, Jrue Holiday was giving the Blazers fits with explosive drives or pull-up jumpers. He capping his 41-point night with an 18-footer that gave the Pelicans a six-point lead with 40 seconds left.
Rajon Rondo had 16 assists, and Davis also had 11 rebounds and three blocks for New Orleans, which is moving on to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time since the NBA returned to the city 16 seasons ago.
Rondo has said he came to New Orleans to play what he viewed as the best “Big Three” in the NBA – Davis, Holiday and DeMarcus Cousins. Misfortune struck Cousins in late January, when he was lost for the season to a left Achilles tear. Davis and Holiday had to raise their games, and have come through beyond expectations.
Portland never gave up, trimming a 15-point second-half deficit to a single point on Al-Farouq Aminu’s layup with 5:08 to go, but Davis responded with 12 points over the final 4:56, staring with a layup as he was fouled and a 3-pointer. Holiday scored six points during the final 2:52, starting with his 3-pointer. The pair combined for all but one of New Orleans’ points during that pivotal stretch.
“You put the ball in these two guys’ hands and they delivered for us,” Rondo said. “I couldn’t ask for a better duo right now, especially at the time of the game where he needed to get the ball in the hole.”
C.J. McCollum scored 38 for the Trail Blazers, who responded to a blowout loss in Game 3 by keeping Game 4 close until the final minute. Aminu scored 27, Damian Lillard added 19 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.
The sweep represented a quick, unceremonious and somewhat surprising end to a season that saw the Blazers climb to third in the Western Conference on the strength of a 13-game winning streak. But Portland seemed to cool off shortly before the regular season ended, and never regained peak form.
“It’s not how we envisioned it happening for us, especially getting home court,” Lillard said. “We just weren’t playing our best basketball like we had been during that stretch of 13 games. And then we come in here against a team that probably played their best stretch of basketball when they had to.”
Trail Blazers: Played without 6-foot-9 forward Maurice Harkless. Coach Terry Stotts said Harkless, who’d started Game 3 when Turner was out, had a recurrence of knee soreness that had hampered him late this season. Stotts said that while Harkless was in too much pain to play, his knee did not appear to have structural damage. … Became the first No. 3 seed to lose in the first round since Denver lost to Golden State in the 2013 playoffs. … The Blazers fell to 6-7 in first round playoff series in which they had home-court advantage. … McCollum was Portland’s leading scorer during the series, averaging 25.3.
Pelicans: Nikola Mirotic had 10 points and 11 rebounds. … Moore finished with 14 points. … Captured the first playoff sweep in the franchise’s 16-year history … Committed 14 turnovers, with Holiday committing seven.
Leading up to Game 4, Lillard spoke of the need for the Blazers to ramp up their intensity and physicality. From the tip, it looked as though they’d done so.
In stark contrast to Game 3, when New Orleans led by 18 in the first quarter, this game was tight and testy.
Anthony and Ed Davis received double technical fouls after bumping one another following one of Anthony Davis’ dunks – and that was just the beginning.
McCollum was called for a flagrant foul when he stormed into the lane behind E’Twaun Moore and grabbed the Pelicans guard by the shoulders to thwart a driving layup attempt. Moore then shoved McCollum and was assessed a technical foul.
And in the final seconds of the half, double technical were assessed to Rondo and Portland center Zach Collins after Rondo lowered his forehead into Collins’ chest and Collins shoved back.
“I live for those moments,” a grinning Rondo said. “I was trying to stay smart as far as not getting thrown out. … We knew what kind of game it was, especially when Dame came out with the comments he made.”
When halftime arrived, New Orleans led 58-56.
Lillard, who never scored more than 20 in a game and was held below that three times, said he would have loved to shoot more, but the Pelicans’ commitment to defend him early in possessions with multiple players made it difficult.
“They came in with a great defensive game plan, threw something at us that we hadn’t seen and it worked out for them,” Lillard said. “We just didn’t play great.”
Trail Blazers: Begin the offseason.
Pelicans: Prepare for a second-round series for the first time since 2008.
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