New Orleans -- The Rockets led by as many as 20 in the third quarter, but the Pelicans had trimmed the deficit to 7 with 6 minutes to play. That was when the tides turned because of one call. Jrue Holiday was defending James Harden with one hand up and the other on his own chest. Holiday was called for a foul as Harden shot and missed a three. After watching the replay on the big screen, the players and Head Coach Alvin Gentry reacted in shock-- as did the rest of the Pelicans fans in the arena. Gentry walked away from the official after saying his piece, sat down on the bench, and was given a technical foul. Harden made 3 of the 4 free throws following that sequence, pushing Houston's lead back to double-digits with 5:39 to play. When asked what he thought of the game, Gentry couldn't hold back his frustration.
"When a guy has his hand on his chest and he’s got his hand in and you call a three-point shot, that is not right," Gentry said. "That’s not correct. That’s not the way you do it. Then you give them the ball back on another play when they undercut a player, that’s not right either. That’s not correct. That’s not the way you call the game. Then when you can get technical fouls for walking away from a guy, then this league has really changed. I walked away from him so I wouldn’t get a technical."
The Pelicans kept fighting to close the gap, but getting withing 105-101 with 17.3 seconds to play was as close as they got. After the game, the players didn't hear what Gentry said outside the locker room to the media, but heard that he spoke his mind.
"It's a tricky situation," said Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday, who finished with 19 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds. "I'm glad my coach defended that and defended the team. It was a little lopsided, you feel. I know reffing is hard and it's challenging, especially nowadays where they're trying to let the game be more physical. I don't know. I just really appreciate my coach."
Coach Gentry also defended Anthony Davis, who led the Pelicans with 26 points and 13 rebounds, saying he doesn't get the same calls as other players in the league simply because he doesn't complain about it.
"When AD rolls to the basket and AD’s grabbed and he’s held, then give him the same calls that you would give somebody else. That’s all. It’s not right because, you know what? We are battling our a** off for a playoff spot and all we want is the game called the right way. I will take the d*** fine that they are going to give me tomorrow – that is fine – but I am sick of it."
Harden, who received MVP chants from the crown early in the game, was sent-out with boos in the 4th quarter every time he touched the ball after the controversial foul call. Harden led all scorers with 32 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists.
Not to be lost in the heat of the game, the Pelicans held a moment of silence before the national anthem to honor the memory of team owner, Tom Benson, who passed away Thursday. They also played a video tribute for Mr. Benson at halftime. Before the game, Davis was also recognized for his Western Conference Player of the Month honors for February and presented with a trophy.
The Pelicans (39-30) have a quick turn-around to host the Celtics on Sunday at 5:00 p.m.