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Pelicans display growing defensive identity, maul Clippers 113-89

New Orleans held L.A. to 34 points in the first half

LA Clippers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

Suddenly, the New Orleans Pelicans have a real home court advantage, and an identity.

The Pels won for the seventh time in their last 10 games at the Smoothie King Center, closing out their quick, two-game home stand with a 113-89 rout of the Los Angeles Clippers. New Orleans has won each of the first three games in the four game season series and five in a row against Los Angeles dating back to last season.

The Pels last swept the Clippers in the 2008-09 season.

In two games at home against LA this season, New Orleans has held the Clips to a total of 170 points. The 81 points and 89 points scored in those respective losses represent the two best defensive efforts by the Pelicans in 2021-22.

The Pelicans were stifling over the first 24 minutes, holding the Clippers to 34 points in the opening half.

Los Angeles, one of the top three-point shooting teams in the NBA, made just two of its first 18 attempts from behind the arc. The Clippers managed only 11 total field goals while converting barely 26 percent of their shots.

“Everything was triggered by our ability to play defense by keeping those guys out of the paint and contesting their threes,” Willie Green said in postgame. “We know they are a capable three-point shooting team. The goal was to rebound the ball and run from there.”

The strong defense early allowed the Pelicans to build a 19-point halftime advantage with a balanced offensive effort.

Jonas Valanciuanas posted a double-double in the first half, with 11 points and 10 rebounds. He would finish the night with 18 and 16.

Devonte’ Graham (9), Brandon Ingram (8), and Josh Hart (8) got off to solid starts, and the Pels got solid contributions from Jaxson Hayes (six points, two rebounds) and Jose Alvarado (two points, six rebounds, four assists) off the bench.

New Orleans valued the basketball, only turning it over four times in the first half and finishing with a season-low six overall.

The second half was good enough, as the Pelicans were able to answer the expected runs by the Clippers down the stretch.

Most importantly, when the dust had cleared, New Orleans had improved to 16-26 and climbed to within half a game of the 10th seed in the Western Conference.

Right now, everything is trending upwards for the Pelicans, particularly at home. Since Dec 8, New Orleans ranks second in home wins (7) and eighth in home win percentage (.700).

The Pelicans are building their foundation. It isn’t in their scoring or athleticism, or even in their talent.

The New Orleans Pelicans are being built on toughness.

Finally.

They are becoming a defensive-minded, intense, highly-competitive, pain-in-the-ass, basketball team that can keep pace with anyone in the league based on effort alone.

They are giving a fan base a reason to hope and to believe once again.

Through their adversity, they have found their leader.

Brandon Ingram has moved from statistical All-Star to a legitimate one. His 23 points, six assists, and five rebounds might not leap off the box score, but watching Ingram on a nightly basis provides plenty of examples of eye-popping growth for the Pelicans’ forward.

B.I. is currently matching his career-high in rebounding and posting career-best numbers in assists.

Still not a great individual defender, Ingram has become a more capable team defender; increasing his activity and communication on that end of the floor.

Valanciunas has been the perfect complement on the interior, closing out possessions on the defensive glass and providing buckets on the post and from the perimeter.

Herb Jones continues to play far beyond his years, proving to be an efficient and effective secondary scorer with the starting and reserve units. Jones was 5-6 from the floor against the Clippers and confidently buried two of his three attempts from deep.

Hart wasn’t at his best on offense but he impacted the game as only he does, finishing +21 in 34 minutes.

Though it wasn’t needed tonight, Devonte’ Graham has shown his value in the clutch as a shooter.

The holes are still there. New Orleans still reaches too many stretches where getting a basket seems like an impossible task.

Finding consistent production from any single player on the bench remains an elusive goal.

But one thing the New Orleans Pelicans are not missing is fight. Willie Green has tapped into the very soul of this basketball team, and by extension the city.

Pelicans basketball means something right now.

Enjoying watching this team play doesn’t mean you’re willing to accept mediocrity, because it is clear that’s no longer the standard being set.

Something is different. It’s palpable.

Time will tell where the road takes these Pelicans, but something is indeed different.

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @DMGrubb.