By Murray Evans
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
OKLAHOMA CITY _ Pelicans coach Monty Williams isn’t afraid to say what a lot of people are thinking by now: Anthony Davis might be turning into one of the best clutch players in the NBA.
He certainly made one of the biggest shots of his career Friday night.
Davis’ first 3-pointer of the season _ a double-clutch attempt with Kevin Durant and another defender coming at him _ beat the buzzer and capped a 41-point performance that lifted New Orleans over the Oklahoma City Thunder 116-113 in a thrilling game between Western Conference rivals fighting to reach the playoffs.
“If you don’t want to be great, step aside and let somebody else be great,” Davis said. “Everybody just wanted to be great tonight. I know I had to be great. I want to be great, so you have to be able to accept the challenges.”
Davis also grabbed 10 rebounds and outdueled Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, who scored a career-high 48 points to go with 11 assists and nine rebounds. Westbrook, who had 45 points Wednesday in a win at New Orleans, made three free throws with 1.2 seconds left to tie the game.
Davis took the ensuing inbounds pass from Tyreke Evans and silenced a raucous sellout crowd.
“We’ve been in so many close games over the last four years. Guys continue to step up and do the best they can and tonight you saw greatness in a guy that doesn’t run from it,” Williams said.
“Obviously, you don’t get a lot of time to celebrate in the NBA. We’ve got to play tomorrow, but I’m sure he feels and has felt that he’s not just one of the better players in the league, he might be the best when it comes to being a young guy who’s not afraid of the moment.”
It was a huge moment for the Pelicans. In the competitive Western Conference, ninth-place New Orleans moved to 27-23 and took a two-game lead over Oklahoma City (25-25). Both teams are chasing the Phoenix Suns (29-23) for the final playoff spot in the West.
New Orleans also won the season series 3-1 over Oklahoma City, a tiebreaker that would be applied if both teams finish with the same record.
The Pelicans trailed by 12 midway through the third quarter but scored 14 straight points to take a seven-point lead early in the fourth. The teams traded dramatic plays the rest of the way.
Durant scored 27 points, including a pair of 3s in the fourth quarter, but went 9 of 26 from the field. The reigning MVP returned after missing four of the previous five games with a sprained left big toe.
Andre Roberson’s layup with 22.3 seconds left pulled Oklahoma City to 111-110. Evans, who had 22 points and 16 assists, missed two free throws with 17.8 seconds to go, setting up a wild final sequence.
Durant missed a 20-foot jumper that could have put the Thunder ahead. Evans rebounded, but threw an outlet pass right into Durant’s hands. Durant missed again, this time on a floater, and Davis rebounded with 2.8 seconds left and made two free throws.
Westbrook took the ensuing inbounds pass and was fouled on a 3 by Quincy Pondexter before making the tying free throws.
“I was just taking my time, make one at a time,” Westbrook said. “You can’t make three (at once). You can take one free throw. My job is to go make one at a time.”
Westbrook also became the first NBA player this season to have consecutive games of 40 points or more.
“He got whatever he wanted,” Durant said. “He was really, really aggressive, getting to the rim, shooting jump shots. He was great tonight. He carried us.”
Pelicans: Evans and Oklahoma City’s Kendrick Perkins each received a first-quarter technical foul after briefly jawing at the 4:17 mark. … Evans set a career high with his 16 assists.
Thunder: C Steven Adams was whistled for a technical foul with 3:40 left in the third quarter. … Serge Ibaka fouled out with 3:01 left with 10 points. . In addition to Durant, Thunder F Perry Jones also returned from injury. Jones, who had been out for two games with an ankle injury, played only the final second, guarding New Orleans’ inbounds pass.
Durant was in no mood to blame his poor shooting _ particularly his pair of last-minute misses _ on his recent absence. “I ain’t making no excuses,” he said. “I should have made those shots. I got a good look _ a layup, wide-open 3s. It ain’t because I’ve been out of the lineup. I just missed them.”
Pelicans: Host Chicago on Saturday.
Thunder: Host Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday