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Lonzo Ball’s perfect 4th quarter shooting, game-saving defensive play propels Pelicans to 114-113 victory over Pacers

The much-maligned point guard came up huge down the stretch

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Apparently, it was written that matchups between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Indiana Pacers this season must go down to the wire, with plenty of stomach-churning drama before the sound of the final buzzer.

In a reversal of close outcomes from the overtime loss in December, the Pelicans barely walked away winners this time round, holding off the Pacers, 114-113, to win their fourth contest in the last six games.

To be fair, Friday’s matchup probably shouldn’t have produced heart palpitations for fans. Following a Brandon Ingram three, New Orleans found themselves up 81-63 with 2:33 remaining in the third quarter. However, Indiana made a spectacular charge behind the hot-shooting of two Holiday brothers. Justin nailed four threes and Aaron, two, as the Pacers went on a 31-10 run over the next 7+ minutes to cut the Pelicans’ lead to just 94-91.

In all honesty, it felt like we were in the process of watching the second fourth-quarter meltdown of the week. The Pelicans stopped making buckets. The Pacers, similar to the Kings last Monday, couldn’t miss. But different from that loss to Sacramento, an unlikely hero emerged for New Orleans, propelling the team to victory.

On a night LaMelo Ball scored a career-high 34 points for the Charlotte Hornets, Lonzo was the better Ball. He was downright incredible. Zo scored 13 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, going 4-4 from the field in the final frame — all threes — and came up with a game-saving defensive stop on Myles Turner at the rim.

There’s not too many guards in this league that can get high enough while flawlessly executing the necessary verticality to stop a spry 6’11 center driving to the hoop with the game on the line.

“Outstanding,” Stan Van Gundy said after the win in describing Lonzo’s effort on stopping Turner at the rim. “That’s the kind of plays you have to make to win.”

Lonzo Ball has been the best perimeter defender on the Pelicans all season. Now his offense has picked up steam. Since a win over the Wizards, Ball is averaging 15.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.7 steals and only 1.7 turnovers over the past six games. Perhaps most importantly, his jumper has been on fire during this span as he’s knocked down 46.8% of his three-point attempts.

Ball may really be the x-factor for New Orleans this season. When he’s scored 16+ points, the Pelicans have a 6-1 record. When he’s scored 15 or less, they’re 3-11.

Ingram, the game’s high scorer with 30 points, was frank with Jen Hale of Fox Sports New Orleans after the game.

“He definitely covered my ass. At the end of the game, I shot an airball, not knowing the time on the clock. For him to have my back and have a defensive play at the end of the game that wins the basketball game is very big for us.”

Ingram was no slouch though. In addition to his 30 points, he added six rebounds, seven assists and hit 3 of 6 from behind the arc. His last bucket, a long midrange shot, proved to be the winning shot for New Orleans.

The team’s other cornerstone was pretty good as well. Zion Williamson finished with 18 points, four rebounds, five assists and three blocks, but he did appear poised for a much bigger statistical line. Zion scored the first hoop for New Orleans — on a fun drive around Domantas Sabonis and through Myles turner at the rim — en route to 10 points before taking his first rest. That effort, though, was enough to get him into the record books.

Steven Adams’ presence was undeniable, too. He produced his second straight double-double, finishing with 12 points and 12 rebounds. As usual, his work on the glass was a key in New Orleans leaving Indiana with a win. He kept many a possession alive and his tip-in with 1:15 left in regulation was as necessary as any Lonzo three-pointer.

For as well as four of the starters played, the same couldn’t be said about Eric Bledsoe. Despite finishing with the best +/- on the team, Bled was off. For instance, he shot a floater that somehow hit the top of the backboard, and then a few minutes later, he sailed an alley-oop over Adams’ head in the third quarter. With 3:04 left in the game, he was inexplicably beaten on a backdoor cut by Doug McDermott and compounded the mistake on the ensuing possession by getting stripped on a drive into the paint.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker wasn’t much better off the bench, but the Pelicans did receive positive contributions from JJ Redick (12 points, 3-3 threes), Josh Hart (11 points, seven rebounds) and Willy Hernangomez (six rebounds, two steals).

It was good for the Pelicans Lonzo Ball to show resilience in clutch minutes, but New Orleans shouldn’t be too proud of their effort over the final 14 minutes of the game.

“Well, I liked the last stop,” Van Gundy said. “I liked making some free throws. I liked Lonzo knocking down shots. But that 4th quarter was ... a disaster.”

The head coach is completely correct in his assessment, but with how things have gone this season, not too many in New Orleans are going to complain loudly about this last-second win.

Up next, the Pelicans play Saturday on the second night of a back-to-back when they host the Memphis Grizzlies. Stay tuned for David Grubb’s preview in the morning.

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