Brian Allee-Walsh

Chumps or champs? Jekyl-Hyde Pelicans shock the star-studded Cavs without Anthony Davis

New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) reacts after scoring against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Monday, in New Orleans.
New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) reacts after scoring against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Monday, in New Orleans. AP

Be honest.

If I had told you before Monday night’s game between Cleveland and New Orleans at the Smoothie King Center that Kyrie Irving (49), LeBron James (26) and Kevin Love (22) would combine to score 97 points for the defending NBA champion Cavaliers, James would post a triple-double with 10 boards and 12 assists and Pelicans starting All-Star forward Anthony Davis would sit out the game with a gimpy leg, you might have said:

(a) Why play?

(b) Cavs in a walkover.

(c) LeBron would be on the bench in the third quarter playfully flipping water bottles in the air trying to stand them upright.

(d) Free fries for fans if Pels lost by fewer than 25 points.

(e) Ugh!

I’m almost certain you wouldn’t have said -- Pels Win! ... Pels Win! ... Pels Win!

But that’s exactly what happened. Led by Terrence Jones and Jrue Holiday with 36 and 33 points, respectively, the plucky Pelicans upset the star-studded Cavaliers 124-122 as AD nursed a bruised right thigh on the bench looking dapper in a blazer and slacks.

Now, this might not be the second coming of David slaying Goliath because David probably had a better chance of downing the Big Guy than the Pels did of winning Monday night.

Remember, this is the same Pels team that had left a lingering odor in the Smoothie King Center on Friday night long after being humiliated by the hapless Brookyln Nets 143-114, a game during which Davis labored through 27 minutes before calling it a night.

Afterward, a thoroughly frustrated Pels coach Alvin Gentry took his team to task.

“I could sit up here and b.s. you guys and say this happened, they made shots ... no. They kicked our ass,’’ Gentry said. “In just plain English, they kicked our ass. In every phase of the game they did. Three point shooting, rebounding, hustling, driving the ball to the basket. Everything that you can talk about basketball, there wa not one phase of the game we won. Not one.

“It’s an everything breakdown. Everything sucked. The effort that we played with sucked. The coaching sucked. The ball movement -- everything about it was just horrendous. There’s no way of sugar coating it.’’

And then the unthinkable happened Monday night.

Now, Pels fans should not get too giddy. Yes, the team remains in the hunt for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference at 18-27, just one game back of the on-the-bubble Denver Nuggets going into Tuesday night’s slate of games.

In fact, eight teams are within five games of that coveted eighth spot.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier. The Pels close out the month against four playoff-caliber opponents -- at home against Oklahoma City on Wednesday, San Antonio on Friday and Washington on Sunday and at Washington next Tuesday.

My question is who are these Pelicans?

The chumps who got blown out at home against the NBA’s worst team (Brooklyn)?

Or, the champs who inexplicably took down the favored Cavs without AD?

The truth lies somewhere in between.

Whether that’s good enough for the Pels to stay the course and make the playoffs remains to be seen.

Brian Allee-Walsh is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.

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