The Pelicans went streaking Thursday night in Phoenix, Arizona. New Orleans won their third game in a row after managing to hang on in the final seconds for a 124-121 road victory against Devin Booker and the Suns.
This was a flat out fun game to watch. Both franchises sport rosters full of youngsters with something to prove. One of those players is point guard Lonzo Ball. Ball returned to the lineup after missing several games with a hip injury. Despite his availability though, head coach Alvin Gentry elected to again start Jrue Holiday and JJ Redick in the backcourt. Holiday and Redick and have played very well off of each other in recent games and tonight was no exception.
Redick was about as hot as the Arizona Sun all game long but especially in the first quarter. The veteran guard led all first quarter scorers with 14 points on 5 of 7 shooting including 3 of 5 from beyond the arc. During one stretch, Redick had a four-point play opportunity on back-to-back possessions after being fouled on several made three-point attempts. Redick went on to finish the game with 26 points, five threes, five rebounds and two assists.
Despite shooting 57.7% in the opening frame, New Orleans led by only five points (38-33) at the end of the first quarter. At one point the Pels knocked down nine consecutive field goals and looked like they might open up a sizable lead. However, missed defensive assignments, and excessive fouling allowed Phoenix to hang around.
The energy was solid all night; however, New Orleans allowed far too many easy baskets and put Phoenix on the free throw line six times in the first quarter. One player who absolutely did not struggle to defend was Jrue Holiday. Holiday played very well offensively but his grade A defense on Suns star Devin Booker was huge for New Orleans. Booker still managed 19 points, but Holiday made his life difficult and never allowed Booker to get too comfortable on the floor.
In the second quarter New Orleans hot shooting cooled considerably as evidenced by a 21.7% field goal percentage. Fourth-year forward Brandon Ingram struggled offensively the entire first half, shooting 1 of 7 from the field, and was 0-4 in the second frame. However, he did manage to draw several fouls going 5 of 6 from the free throw line, and the Pelicans found themselves down 66-59 at halftime.
Early in the season, the Pelicans had real problems closing games out. The team just didn’t seem to know what their plan was in the final four minutes of games. In their first five clutch opportunities, they failed to walk away with a single victory. However, since that 0-5 start, the Pelicans have found some magic, going 3-0 since. Phoenix may have the Suns but New Orleans once again played like stars in the fourth quarter, winning their fourth straight crunch time game. The biggest reason? Brandon Ingram, who shook off his early shooting woes to close the contest out like a bona fide superstar.
Ingram was the unquestioned closer in this game. His teammates looked for him just about every time down the floor and he delivered, scoring 15 points in the fourth and the team’s final nine points of the contest.
With New Orleans clinging to a narrow lead late in the fourth quarter, Holiday passed to Ingram on the left elbow. Ingram backed his man down before nailing a beautiful turnaround fade away jumper. On the very next possession Ingram again caught the ball near the left elbow, this time ball faking to the left before spinning over his right shoulder and driving to the basket for an old fashioned three-point play. Only seconds later Ingram caught an inbound pass and slammed it home virtually sealing the win for New Orleans. Ingram would finish with a game-high 28 points to go with eight rebounds, five assists, three triples and two blocks.
New Orleans has now won five of their last seven games and it’s starting to feel like this team is beginning to figure itself out. In addition, they sit just a game and a half out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference.
After the game, veteran guard JJ Redick cited lineup changes and increased chemistry for the Pelicans recent success. The best part though was when he gave a shout out to the team’s glue guy, Kenrich Williams, who’s recent addition to the starting lineup continues to look genius.
“The guy just makes winning plays,” said Redick about Williams who finished with a line of two points, nine rebounds, two blocks and a steal. “He’s been a monster for us.”
The Pelicans (6-9) will look to keep their winning ways going on the road this coming Saturday night against the Utah Jazz (9-5).