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Pelicans lose Ingram, Zion, ultimately fall 122-121 in thrilling OT loss to Jazz

NBA: Utah Jazz at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Jazz do not remotely look like a team that’s interested in the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes to begin this season.

Also, reading the announcement that Brandon Ingram suffered concussion-like symptoms following a collision with Naji Marshall and later seeing Zion Williamson crash ridiculously hard to the floor on a dunk attempt was the bitterest of pills to swallow. The sell-out crowd was forced to watch not one but two of its stars leave early due to injury in the 2022-23 home opener.

All of that, in a nut shell, helps explain how the New Orleans Pelicans fell 122-121 in overtime to the Jazz.

The game featured a number of highs and lows, but it couldn’t have been contested any more closely nor fiercely during winning time.

With 9:43 left in regulation, Utah enjoyed a commanding 102-85 lead. Then New Orleans proceeded to whittle away the entire deficit. The Pelicans held the Jazz to just a single bucket, a Kelly Olynyk 3-pointer, for over eight and a half minutes. With 1:26 remaining, the Pelicans led 107-105.

“It was our defense,” Larry Nance Jr said in postgame. “I believe Garrett Temple on the bench said in the past eight minutes they had like three points or something. Our defensive intensity ramped way up. I thought it was great when we started switching — they didn’t know what to do. Everything has to start, especially on this team — we’re going to put up points — everything has to start on the defensive end.”

Jordan Clarkson and CJ McCollum exchanged several field goals down the stretch, and then the Pelicans had a chance to win. However, CJ’s kick-out to the right corner flew out of bounds — Herb Jones decided to cut to the rim during McCollum’s drive leaving that part of the floor empty.

Fortunately, the miscommunication didn’t cost New Orleans the game as Clarkson missed a 3 attempt as time expired. Trey Murphy’s contest of the shot had a lot to do with the result.

In overtime, the game remained a seesaw battle. McCollum hit a tough 10-foot runner over the out-stretched left hand of Lauri Markkanen with 8.4 seconds to go. Olynyk responded with a smart drive and lay-in after seeing McCollum had switched onto him.

Armed with no timeouts, down a single point and only 3.1 seconds left, the Pelicans had to settle for a McCollum desperation 28-footer, which clanged off the rim.

The Pelicans had several chances to steal the win but couldn’t. The 63-53 halftime was just too deep a hole to climb out of because the Jazz began the game as the aggressor and executed well for the vast majority.

“But as I told our group, we can’t wait to get hit first,” Willie Green said. “I thought tonight ... we watched the film on Utah against Denver, we watched them against Minnesota. This is how they play. They’re tough, they play fast, they offensive rebound the ball and they want to get a lot of 3s up. I thought they were just a bit faster than we were in the first half.”

Markkanen stood out the most for Utah. You know, the player who was once reportedly to be included in a trade package for Lonzo Ball. The Pelicans had no answers for the 6’11 Finnish-born player until late in the game, but by then he had already made a deep impact. He finished with a line of 31 points, 12 rebounds and two steals.

For as much difficultly as Markkanen gave the Pelicans through the first three quarters, McCollum was equally that thorn for the Jazz throughout the second half. CJ McCollum did his best to offset the rising Jazz star, contributing 28 points, 12 assists and four rebounds.

“CJ was fantastic,” Green said. “ He got to his spots, got his teammates involved. I had to play him a ton of minutes, which I don’t normally like to do, but the game called for it — and he stepped up to the plate.”

A number of others were excellent in support. Murphy provided 16 points, nine rebounds and three 3-pointers in 40 points off the bench. Nance did what he does best, which is a little bit of everything: 10 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

Naji Marshall, Jose Alvarado and even Devonte’ Graham provided highlights all over the court. I mean, when’s the last time you saw a 6’1 point guard thwart an opposing center standing a foot taller at the rim?

For as well as the others stepped up, it’s still hard to believe that the Pelicans lost their two biggest stars on the same night.

Coming off two 28-point performances in several road wins, Ingram got off to a sensational start, making four of five field goals in scoring 10 points. Then towards the end of the first quarter, the cursed collision happened, where Marhsall’s elbow appeared to strike Ingram in the face.

Friendly fire is tough to stomach because that usually means two teammates are so razor-sharp focused on making a play that they fail to factor they’re about to share the same airspace.

Ingram returned briefly in the second frame, but he didn’t even last another full minute, walking slowly off the floor and exiting the arena through the tunnel for the locker room.

As for Williamson, he found a nice groove out of halftime, serving as that necessary spark without his big name running mate. He scored 12 of his 25 points in the third quarter. Then that ill-fated transition dunk happened soon thereafter.

Replay clearly showed Jordan Clarkson making a good play on the ball, but because of the amount of force Zion generates, he lost his balance in midair. Everyone inside the Smoothie King Center felt that awfully loud landing.

“I though, oh man, this isn’t good,” McCollum said. “Unfortunate play. {Jordan Clarkson} made a play on the ball and he obviously fell and hit his back. Hopefully, he’s back sooner rather than later, but that’s tough. That’s a lot of weight, a lot of energy, a lot of athleticism coming down. They say it’s 10x the force or whatever coming down. He gets up high. So hopefully he’s back soon.”

The Pelicans no longer sit perfect in the standings, but that should be the least of everyone’s concerns. 79 games remain on the schedule. It’s much easier to navigate the rest of the regular season with Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson than without them.

Here’s to a speedy recovery for both franchise guys.

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 @OlehKosel.