NEW ORLEANS — What to do, what to do. Fans in attendance at the Smoothie King Center struggled to figure that out Friday night when reacting to the return of All-Star center Anthony Davis.
Having demanded a trade from the New Orleans Pelicans in late January, Davis rejoined his teammates for their 122-117 win over to the Minnesota Timberwolves after missing three weeks with a left index finger injury — and two days after the team’s brass decided to sit him until after Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.
Davis finished with 32 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in just 25 minutes, after sitting the entire fourth quarter of a close game.
What ensued from the opening tip was a mixture of boos, cheers and general awkwardness expected to last the duration of the season.
“I think the shock of the whole thing is over,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “Obviously, he said that he doesn’t want to be here, he wants to be traded. All that has been known. Now what we’re trying to do is bring back some normalcy to the whole situation.”
Good luck with that.
In New Orleans’ first home game on Jan. 30 after Davis’ trade demands became public, the big man was removed from nearly all of the Pelicans’ pregame hype video prior to tipoff. He also was eliminated from an image of the team’s entire roster with the motto “Do It Big” at the conclusion of the video.
This time around, before the hype video even played, a picture of the entire team was posted on the scoreboard with the “Do It Big” motto, featuring Davis prominently in the middle. When the video played Friday, however, Davis was not prominently featured — but he definitely was included, unlike last week.
When Davis’ individual picture popped up on the scoreboard minutes before that, the sparse crowd actually cheered.
The scene didn’t foreshadow the confusion that would unfold.
“You have a star player. If he wants to play, let him play,” said Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday, who finished Friday’s opening half with 15 points. “For sure, that’s his passion right? That’s why Anthony’s here, is to play basketball. He’s obviously made it known that he won’t sign back, but he still loves the game of basketball. I know that he loves us as players, and he’s gonna go out there and play as hard as he can. If Anthony’s out there, that’s the best chance of us winning.”
When Davis was announced in the starting lineup, the crowd responded with a mixture of boos and cheers, with the former a little more pronounced than the latter.
The crowd jeered Davis every time he took possession of the basketball in the opening quarter. But strangely, the majority of the spectators drowned out the boos with applause every time Davis made a play. And that occurred often.
Davis pumped in New Orleans’ first six points and was booed whenever he handled the ball, only to be raucously cheered just seconds later — like when he nailed a step-back jumper for his second bucket of the night.
Davis scored 24 points in the opening half, pouring in 10 of New Orleans’ first 12 points. When Davis went to the free throw line with 7:06 left in the first quarter, the boos rained down, only to transform into cheers seconds later as he sank both shots. That was followed by “A.D.” chants in Section 121 just below media seating that would only grow louder as the night progressed.
Holiday jokingly compared Davis’ situation to the farewell tours of Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce.
“We all enjoy Anthony. We all love having him and playing with him,” Holiday said. “What is this, the tour that like Paul Pierce and Kobe had? It’s kind of like an A.D. tour. Nah — but I think for Anthony, man, like I said, this is his passion, this is what he wants to do.
“He’s still going to come out here and play as hard as he can and give all that he has. I feel like he’s shown that ever since he’s played.”