NEW ORLEANS — Don’t look now, but Anthony Davis, slowed by injuries and teenage inexperience earlier in the season, is beginning to put things together.
The NBA’s No. 1 overall draft pick added another piece to the puzzle Wednesday night in the New Orleans Hornets’ improbable 87-86 victory over the Boston Celtics at the New Orleans Arena.
Despite being so sick that head coach Monty Williams considered holding him out, Davis snaked between Kevin Garnett and Jeff Green with .3 seconds left to tip in a missed layup by Eric Gordon for the first game-winning shot of his NBA career.
It’s the kind of play teammates have seen Davis make in practice all the time, but it was the first time the pencil-thin power forward had done it to win a pro game.
“I just saw my man (Garnett) go try to block the shot, and I just followed my man to the rim, just like you’re supposed to in any situation, and I got the tip,” said Davis, who scored only nine points but had eight rebounds despite playing with a stomach ailment. “He went to go block the shot, and that left me a free lane to the basket.”
Ryan Anderson, who led the Hornets with 21 points off the bench, said Davis flashed the kind of athleticism and leaping ability that is going to make him a terror in the NBA once he figures everything out.
“It’s huge,” said Anderson, who made 2 of 3 free throws with 35.3 seconds left to draw the Hornets within 86-85. “He’s made alley oops. He’s made some pretty incredible and-ones. But that was his best play of the season for me. It was just a huge, big-time hustle play. He’s so long and tall and athletic that he kind of came out of nowhere. I’m sure it surprised Garnett. Those are the plays that win games.”
Garnett, who had 20 points for the Celtics, said he tried to cheat over to help Avery Bradley as Gordon got a step and barreled into the right side of the lane with the clock running down. That left Davis the tiny space he needed to get his long right arm between Garnett and Jeff Green for the tip-in.
“That was me trying to help a teammate,” Garnett said. “As a big man, I try to block shots and protect the basket, and (Davis) took advantage of it.”
Referee Joe Crawford viewed a replay of Davis’ tip-in to make sure there was no basket interference, and he ruled that it was a clean score. Garnett’s desperation shot on Boston’s last possession, which hit iron, came after the buzzer.
The Celtics were down 78-69 with 6:14 left when they went on a 17-3 run to take an 86-81 lead with 1:52 left. But Boston failed to score on its last three possessions. Twice, Paul Pierce, who led the Celtics with a game-high 28 points, missed jumpers.
The second miss was especially tough, because the Hornets had cut the lead to 86-85 on two free throws by Anderson, who was fouled by Pierce on a 3-point attempt with 35.3 seconds left.
The Celtics worked a play for Pierce, but Gordon, giving up 4 inches to the 6-7 Pierce, forced him into a tough 16-footer that missed, setting up the Hornets’ game-winning possession.
Celtic coach Doc Rivers was livid at the way his team (36-31) played down the stretch in frittering away the five-point lead. The Celtics scored just 31 second-half points after leading 55-45 at halftime on the strength of 60 percent shooting.
“I just thought we messed up the game,” Rivers said. “We thought that we were going to win the game when we got the lead. We went from being a solid, good-looking basketball team to ‘show time.’ I believe in the basketball gods. I believe when you mess up the game, the game messes you up. I thought that we deserved it.”
The Hornets (23-46) were paced by Anderson with 21 points and Gordon with 18. Pierce’s 3-pointer with 10:21 left in the third quarter gave Boston its biggest lead of the game, 60-47. But the Hornets scored nine consecutive points to narrow the deficit to 60-56, part of a 20-7 run to end the third quarter that tied the score, 67-67, after three.
Grevis Vasquez said the NBA is just beginning to see the player that Davis will become.
“He’s only 20 years old, and you can see what he’s doing right now,” Vasquez said. “Imagine when he becomes a really big-time player and starts demanding double teams, when he’s shooting the ball consistently and when he’s getting double-doubles every night. This guy’s on his way to being an All-Star. He’s our franchise player.”
NOTES: The Hornets whipped the Celtics on the boards, 45-28. … Garnett returned to the Celtics lineup after missing two games with a strained abductor muscle and a stomach ailment. “He would’ve played the Miami game (on Monday), but he was sick,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m going to watch it because with Kevin, you don’t ever trust that he’s 100 percent. (But he’ll have) no restrictions or anything like that.” … Rivers said he was delighted with the late progress of his son, rookie Hornets guard Austin Rivers, before his season ended March 6 with a broken right hand. In his last game against the Lakers, he scored 10 points on 5 of 6 shooting in the first half. “I just thought his tempo (improved),” Rivers said of his son. “You could see early in the year he got to the paint whenever he wanted to, but he was doing it so fast and he was going so deep that he couldn’t make the shots. I thought right when he slowed down and pulled up a second earlier than going in with the trees that he was really effective. I knew it was going to come. I just didn’t know when. The first thing I always look at as a scout is if a guy can get his shot. I don’t even care if it goes in or not early on. You saw he could do that. And then when it started going in, it helped.”