The Pelicans lose a big lead in the third quarter and then gather past the Clippers in the fourth to reach the playoffs

New Orleans Pelicans coach Willie Green tried to figure out what exactly was going to work in Friday night’s play-in game against the LA Clippers.

Here was Green, a first-year head coach battling for adaptation with Ty Lue, a championship-winning coach considered one of the best in the league. The heavyweight game, as Green called the game, tipped in Lue and Clippers’ direction as New Orleans saw a 16-point lead in the first half evaporate to a Clippers lead of 10 points at the end of the third quarter.

But when he and his team needed it most, Green and the Pelicans landed haymaker after haymaker, with Jonas Valanciunas landing the final knockout stroke with 12.6 seconds left, knocking it home and giving the Pelicans a come-from-behind. victory at 105-101.

New Orleans advances from the play-in tournament as the No. 8 seed to face the top-seeded Phoenix Suns. Their first round series begins Sunday night.

The Pelicans become just the fourth team in NBA history to start a season 1-12 or worse and reach the playoffs with the Suns 1996-97 (0-13), the Cleveland Cavaliers 1984-85 (1-12) and the 1967- 68 Chicago Bulls (1-12), according to ESPN Stats and Information research.

The Pelicans led by 10 at the break, but it quickly turned the Clippers’ way as they used a 34-6 run over the final minute of the second quarter and into the third quarter to swing momentum their way.

Los Angeles came out slowly after being told that seven-time All-Star Paul George was placed in health and safety records earlier in the day. The Clippers were already without Kawhi Leonard, who did not play a game at all this year.

But Lue’s team did not resign. His adjustment in the third quarter was to start Robert Covington instead of Ivica Zubac, and New Orleans had no answer.

“He made adjustments,” Green said. “He took his big ones out. We tried to adapt to them. It didn’t work for us. We put our big ones back in. It didn’t work for us either.

“So we threw darts after the dartboard to find out how we could find an environment that we can play in at both ends of the floor.”

Eventually, Green landed on a lineup with Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., Trey Murphy and Herb Jones playing most of the minutes down. It gave New Orleans a changeable lineup in defense with enough shots to get things going offensively.

Part of what got the Pelicans going in the fourth quarter was a fiery speech by Green, something that Murphy said surprised him.

“It was another side of Willie that I haven’t seen, quite frankly. He was really turned on,” Murphy said. “Most of the time he’s very straight cool, but he was really fired up and turned on us. I think that set us off in the fourth quarter. At the end of the day, we did not want our season should be over. We wanted to keep playing, and he was clearly in charge. “

After the Clippers got rid of the first shots in the first quarter, the Pelicans responded back with a 27-7 run that gave them a 101-94 lead with 2:10 left, finishing with Murphy’s fourth 3-pointer of the night.

“Boys stepped up,” Ingram said. “Trey Murphy was great in the fourth quarter. Defensive rebounds and shots down. We’ll need it from him as we continue … Larry Nance came in and was really, really good on the glass. We needed something from everyone. Today.”

It was Ingram who got the Pelicans started early and scored 16 of his 30 points in the first quarter. Green said Ingram had been locked inside since the team left New Orleans.

“Brandon Ingram is the truth,” Green said. “He just brought it. He had that look in his eyes from the moment we boarded the plane. Shoot around, he’s been locked inside. He’s been waiting for this moment, for this type of moment.”

Green also credited Nance, who came off the bench with 14 points and 16 rebounds, including the dunk that brought New Orleans to good with 4:02 left.

“Larry was a monster,” Green said. “We figured it was going to be a Larry game, the way they play. Ty Lue’s adjustments were going to be small, and Larry has the ability to guard a number of perimeter guys. He’s big, he’s strong, he can return the ball. We will not win that match without his efforts. “

This is the first time Ingram has made it to the playoffs in his NBA career, something he said he is excited about. McCollum, who the Pelicans brought over in a mid-season trade, has never missed the playoffs in his nine-year career after making eight in a row with Portland.

McCollum said he is happy that his teammate is going to join him in the off-season.

“He’s one of them,” McCollum said of Ingram. “He’s a special player. He’s getting to his seats. It’s clear I’m playing with him and I’m happy about that, but I’m glad the world can see who he really is. I think some “times if you do not get to the playoffs, people will forget you a little or underestimate your talent. Now he’s going to play on the biggest stage. He showed tonight how amazing he is.”

For the Clippers, Friday night marked a disappointing end to a season filled with what-ifs due to their two-star long absence. George missed 51 games in the regular season this season, with the Clippers going 24-27 in his absence and 18-13 with him in the lineup. Leonard remains out as he retrains a torn ACL and has not played a single minute this season. The team said there is still no timetable for Leonard’s return.

Lue said he thinks the Clippers could be a force next season with a healthy George and Leonard.

“We’ll get our main guys back,” Lue said. “I mean, we can be dangerous. Health is a part of it. We have to stay healthy, keep working.”

Lue added: “When you get Kawhi back, top-five player, PG, a multi-year All-Star, your team changes tremendously. Guys who have taken on bigger roles this year who have never been in this position before, they can just fall back to their original roles. We could be very different with the two guys left and healthy. … We can be special. “

ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk contributed to this report.

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