NEW ORLEANS, LA - In the face of crippling team injuries, shooting guard Eric Gordon sparkled Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets, posting a season high 35-point effort, showing at least for the moment, why New Orleans is paying him max contract money.
The Pelicans came up just short of tasting victory though, falling by only three points. Now, head coach Monty Williams is addressing what he sees as the problem: double teams targeting Gordon, free of the distracting presences of scoring threats like forward Ryan Anderson and point guard Jrue Holiday.
"I thought we didn't handle Eric being trapped well. We have counters for that and we just didn't handle it well," Williams said Friday after practice. "We worked on some of that today."
As for Gordon, he appears bolstered by that performance - and a body that's finally injury-free.
"When you're not thinking about your body all the time, you can focus on your game," Williams said.
Gordon has appeared to wilt under pressure in the past, but now the 25-year-old veteran says he's embracing the responsibility of scoring more prolifically in the wake of Holiday and Anderson's absences.
"Yeah for sure," Gordon said. "I try to play as high efficiency as I can: try to knock down shots, be a big time play maker, be dynamic all the time."
Doubts about Gordon's commitment to New Orleans have been in ready supply the past 2 seasons. But this is a new moment and Gordon is seizing the chance to redefine himself, at least according to Williams, who was impressed with what he saw out of Gordon during Monday night's loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
"Many people don't know this, but he shouldn't have played in the San Antonio game," Williams said. "He was really sick. At halftime - he had a lot of stuff going on. He still came back out and tried to give us what he had. I think that's a step for Eric because he's showing a commitment to the team that most people didn't think he had."
"It was tough for me to play," Gordon acknowledged. "I wanted to fight for these guys though. You know, we're short-handed. I haven't been on a team that was this short-handed. I just wanted to gut it out and see what I was capable of."
Certainly a new, refreshing aspect to Gordon that the Crescent City hasn't seen before.
It's one the Pelicans need if they have any hope of finding success against upcoming opponents like the Golden State Warriors Saturday, as Anderson and Holiday continue to be relegated to cheerleading roles for the immediate future.
The Pelicans do hope to get sixth man Tyreke Evans back from ankle injury Saturday.