NEW ORLEANS (AP) — It would seem the last thing the struggling Pelicans needed was to find out shortly before tip-off that perennial All-Star Anthony Davis was too sick to play.
But with Elfrid Payton returning to the lineup, they not only managed to stay competitive with Minnesota, but also kicked a recent habit of wilting in crunch time.
Julius Randle had 33 points and 11 rebounds, Darius Miller scored 13 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter, and New Orleans held off the Timberwolves 123-114 on Monday night.
“My mindset doesn’t change regardless of who’s in the game,” Randle said of how he reacted when he learned Davis was out. “A lot of people played really well, stepped up big.”
Miller hits five 3s, his last from the left wing to put the Pelicans up 115-109 with 1:12 to go.
“It was on tonight,” Miller said, noting that Randle, Payton and Jrue Holiday effectively forced defenders to collapse into the paint and leave openings on the perimeter. “The guys did a great job of hitting me when I was open”
After Robert Covington’s 3 for the Wolves made it a one-possession game in the final minute, Miller came back with two free throws on New Orleans’ next possession.
Holiday, who had 26 points, added three late free throws — one of them after Karl-Anthony Towns was assessed a technical foul — and the Wolves were unable to recover.
E’Twaun Moore scored 17 points for the Pelicans, who’ve won two of three since ending a five-game skid.
Towns finished with 28 points and 17 rebounds, scoring 10 of his points during a tight fourth quarter before fouling out with 12.5 seconds left.
Andrew Wiggins scored 20 points for Minnesota, while Taj Gibson scored 17and Covington 16.
“I’m still scratching my head wondering what happened,” Gibson said. “It felt just like we needed a little bit more energy. The way we started the game out, it felt like we just let them get a little comfortable.
“We could’ve got this one, especially with Davis out. But everybody is in the NBA for a reason,” Gibson added. “They had a couple guys step up and hit some big shots.”
Timberwolves: Guard Derrick Rose missed his second straight game with a right ankle sprain. … Forward Keita Bates-Diop missed his second straight game with an illness. … Tyus Jones scored 15 points and Gorgui Dieng added 10 points. … The Wolves fell to 5-14 on the road.
Pelicans: After starting in place of Davis, Jahlil Okafor was called for three fouls within the first five minutes of the game and was subbed out in favor of Cheick Diallo. Okafor wound up playing just 14 minutes and had seven points and seven rebounds. … The Pelicans improved to 13-6 at home. … Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said Davis “tried and tried” to play, even receiving intravenous fluids leading up to game time. “Obviously, he’s very sick. There wasn’t anything that he could do about it.”
Payton’s return from a fractured finger on his left, non-shooting hand came after a 22-game absence that spanned six weeks. Playing about six minutes per quarter, Payton contributed nine points, six assists, a rebound and a steal while wearing tape over his previous injured finger.
“He pushes the pace. He gets to the basket. I don’t think he finished as well as he wanted to, but to be able to get there and make plays out of that was huge for us,” Holiday said, praising Payton’s defensive acumen as well. “Obviously, he added a lot of energy in his first game back in a long time, so it was fun to have him out there.”
Without Davis available to help attack the rim, the Pelicans shot decisively from 3 and it paid off as they hit 56 percent (14 of 25) from deep.
New Orleans went 9 of 13 from 3-point range in the first half, when they led by as many as 14. That opened up the paint for Randle, who scored 18 in the first half, although even one of his field goals came from deep.
The Wolves also let fly from beyond the arc early and often, but with far different results, hitting only three of their first 16 from long range while shooting just worse than 40 percent (21 of 53) overall in the first half.
When Randle hit his second 3 of the game early in the second half, New Orleans was shooting 71.4 percent (10 of 14) from deep, and led by 15.
But that’s when Minnesota suddenly rediscovered its offense, outscoring the Pelicans by 16 the rest of the third quarter. Covington helped ignite the comeback with consecutive 3s. Wiggins added another from long range and Towns hit from 27 feet out to tie it late in the period.
Timberwolves: Visit Boston on Wednesday night.
Pelicans: Visit Brooklyn on Wednesday night.