The New Orleans Pelicans are a win away from winning a spot in the Western Conference playoffs after beating the San Antonio Spurs, 113-103, Wednesday night in the 9 vs. 10 game in the NBA play-in tournament.
CJ McCollum finished the win with 32 points, seven assists and six rebounds, while Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas both overshadowed the 20-point plateau and led the offense in the offensive end for New Orleans. San Antonio also had balanced scoring on the offensive end, with six players scoring in double digits, and went on a big run in the second half to reduce the lead to as few as six points. In the end, however, it was not enough for them to overcome the deficit they were facing.
With the win, New Orleans advances to face the Los Angeles Clippers Friday night in an elimination battle for the right to be No. 8 seeded in the Western Conference and face the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in the first round.
Here are three takeaways along with a summary of our live updates from the game.
1. Pelican bucket catchers
The playoffs often come down to individual shots, and the Pelicans have two of the best in the industry with CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram. On Wednesday, Ingram did much of his injury on the way to the rim and got to the fault line early, then McCollum went to work and showed a seemingly endless series of setbacks and choppy steps. At times, they were each indefensible – by at least one person – and that shows how dynamic this team can be on the offensive end. I mean, what are you going to do with this?
They got a little cold in the second half as San Antonio managed its run, but they immediately went back to work as the team needed them to secure the win. McCollum and Ingram are big reasons why New Orleans will be a tough game against the Clippers on Friday, and possibly longer if they can get to the first round against the Phoenix Suns. Then one looks at next season, with a healthy Zion Williamson back in the fold, and suddenly the Pelicans seem like a serious challenger in the West.
2. Not at Herb
If only postseason awards polls were to be paid a few days later, Herb Jones would certainly have earned some more votes for All-Defense and All-Rookie teams. Already a lover of NBA Twitter, the 23-year-old rookie showed off his unique defensive talents on the national stage on Wednesday, making countless plays that apparently could only make. Take, for example, this game where he picks up a block, a theft, and a thump (which does not count because he had been defeated on the floor beforehand) in a matter of seconds.
Jones was a significant part of the Pelicans’ success this season, and that’s exactly why. In an off-season setting, he can not only guard the other team’s best perimeter players, but he’s also a defensive playmaker who catches steals and blockages leading to easy buckets at the other end. He also shot a respectable 34 percent from the 3-point range this season and went 2-for-4 Wednesday on his way to 12 points, five rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
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3. Pop’s last game?
Gregg Popovich has not given any indication that he can retire, nor would we expect him to, but it is always possible that the 73-year-old coaching legend will call it a career before next season. He won a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics and became the all-time NBA victory leader earlier this season, so there doesn’t seem to be much left for Pop to achieve. That said, he seems to enjoy coaching a younger team in rebuilding mode, and he’s been a lot more … let’s just say … comfortable, with the media in recent years.
Whether Popovich retires next week or another 20 years, he will go down as the best NBA coach ever and one of the best coaches ever in any sport. If this was his last fight, his Spurs fell down with the trademark effort and grace that has characterized all of his teams.
After the loss, Popovich was asked if he would return for his 27th season, and he responded in true pop manner.
“That question is inappropriate,” he said.