The New Orleans Pelicans are on track for the NBA Finals after beating the Los Angeles Clippers, 105-101, Friday night and will now face the Phoenix Suns in No. 1 vs. No. 8 in the Western Conference.
Despite being without the services of Paul George, who was not eligible to play in the match after entering the league’s health and safety protocols, the Clippers were able to run after being double-digit to Brandon Ingram. and Pelicans. In the end, though, it was not enough to get the job done when New Orleans eventually came out on top. With the win, the Pelicans’ next game against the Suns on Sunday night with the opening tip scheduled for 6 p.m. 21.00 ET.
With the loss, the Clippers see that their season has ended in a disappointing way given the expectations they had after adding George and Kawhi Leonard to their roster.
Here are three important things from the game:
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1. Ingram delivers
About 90 seconds into the game, Brandon pulled Ingram up for a mid-range jumper to give the Pelicans their first point of the game. A few possessions later he did it again. And then again, and again and again. He collected 16 points in the first quarter alone, en route to a performance of 30 points, six rebounds and six assists, which was one of the best in his young career.
The overall No. 2 pick back in 2016, Ingram has never played in a playoff game, and entered the playoffs tournament determined to change that fact.
“Man it feels wonderful,” Ingram said. “Just to have a chance to be in the off-season this year. Never had a winning record, never been in the off-season. To have a chance to showcase my talent on the biggest stage is beautiful.”
For much of the second half, it looked like Ingram and the Pelicans might not get there. They let a 16-point lead slip away and Ingram got cold along with the rest of the team. But after being strangled by Nic Batum in a row, Ingram finally found out things in the fourth. He scored seven of his 30 points in the frame and had some huge curves as the Pelicans fought back.
This has not been the easiest season for Ingram as injuries limited him to 55 games and he had to carry much of the offensive burden as Zion Williamson did not play. But he is fresh now, and when the season was at stake, he delivered in a big way.
“Brandon Ingram is the truth,” Pelican head coach Willie Green said. “He brought it straight. He had that look in his eyes from the moment we boarded the plane to shoot around. He’s been locked inside. He’s been waiting for this moment, for this type of moment. His preparation is not on the charts. This summer he went six to seven hours a day. He believes in his teammates. He is everything you want and more in a player and a person. “
2. The play-in tournament wins
When the NBA first decided to test the play-in tournament in the bubble back in 2020, no one knew if it would be a short experiment or the beginning of a new post-season era. After this week, there is no more need to guess. The play-in tournament is amazing and it is here to stay.
It will continue to have its opponents because of scenarios like this where the Clippers lost Paul George in one game and then were knocked out of the playoffs by a team that finished six games behind them in the standings. To be honest, it’s not an unreasonable position, but it will not be enough to influence the league.
The play-in tournament enhances the regular season by putting extra emphasis on matches down the stretch that were meaningless for such a long time, and the revenue that the extra national video games provide is not insignificant. Most important of all though is that the actual basketball provides excellent drama. These win-take-all games are extremely rare in the NBA, and we now get a whole week of them. You can see how much it is important for the players to win these games and there is nothing better than emotional basketball with high stakes.
Just listen to this Willie Green speech:
Friday night’s match was a perfect example. If the NBA wants to do the thing for the play-in tournament, it should just replay this game on a loop. Or even just the second half, which was one of the best 24 minutes of basketball we’ve seen all season. Both teams made a double-digit comeback after the break as the game went all the way down to the final seconds before the Pelicans pulled it out.
The pelican’s bench steps up
If all you did was check out the latest game stats, you’d probably skim over the bench point section, which shows the Pelicans outscoring the Clippers 37-33 in that category. On paper, it is so small a statistical difference that it does not seem appreciable. In practice, however, the Pelicans’ bench was the difference in the game because it came up the stretch.
Larry Nance Jr., Trey Murphy III and Jose Alvarado came up with big games over and over again to key the Pelicans’ comeback in the fourth quarter and make sure they secured the win. Nance and Murphy both played almost the entire fourth quarter and combined for 13 points, nine rebounds and three assists in the frame. Alvarado, meanwhile, had only two rebounds and an assist on the statistics sheet, but his busy play was crucial in the turnaround.
After the Clippers’ small-ball approach stunned the Pelicans in the third quarter, Willie Green responded by also going small and playing Nance in the middle down the stretch. It turned out to be an ingenious move. Nance enjoyed himself with the glass, played strong defense and came up with some timely buckets.
As for Murphy, he did exactly what the team was hoping for when they met him in the first round last year: shot the lights out. He came up with three big triples in the fourth, including one to equalize the match with 4:40 left, and another to place Pels seven and essentially close the match with 2:10 left.