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Ingram shoots bullseyes down the stretch to push Pelicans to 115-111 victory in Chicago

A lot of different players stepped up in different moments against the Bulls, but New Orleans’ #1 option did the heavy lifting in the clutch

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Chicago Bulls Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Ingram flipped a switch when the New Orleans Pelicans needed him most.

Despite DeMar DeRozan, one of the NBA’s most prolific closers, scoring 16 of his 33 points during the game’s final 16 minutes, Ingram’s star shined the brightest, leading the Pelicans to a 115-111 victory against the Bulls in Chicago.

With New Orleans trailing 97-93, Ingram scored 14 of his team-high 22 points over the final 5:07 of regulation. He converted five of six field goals — consisting entirely of pressure jumpers — and nailed all three free throw attempts.

“It was funny,” Zion Williamson said in postgame. “We were in an elbow action. CJ would throw it to BI, and me and CJ were supposed to be in this kind of flip. I’m either supposed to go set the screen or CJ is supposed to set it. I’m not going to lie to you, I saw where he caught it and I was like, I’m not about to go set no screen. It was one of those, just give the ball to BI and get the hell out of way. Let him do him.”

File this away as yet another example of Brandon Ingram being that guy, an All-NBA performer in the clutch. However, the head coach was spot-on to highlight other players in his game summary.

“Those guys did an excellent job down the stretch of executing,” Willie Green said in postgame. “We hit some big shots. Brandon made some big shots. Zion did a great job of attacking the basket, getting to the free throw line. Same thing with Herb. Collectively, it’s hard to win in this building, but those guys did what they needed to do down the stretch. Big time win going home.”

Before Ingram took center stage, his teammates played a significant hand in putting the Pelicans on the doorstep of a quality win on the road.

Jonas Valanciunas first carried New Orleans’ offense. Ingram, Williamson and CJ McCollum had combined for 19 points on six of 21 shooting through the first three quarters. Meanwhile, Valanciunas was sitting on 21 points on eight of 13 shooting at the same mark, leading the Bulls broadcast crew to compare him to the former great Hakeem Olajuwon.

“Jonas is Jonas,” Williamson said. “Jonas is a great player, one of the best big men in the league. So when he’s doing that, it’s not a shock to us.”

Along with Valanciunas, Herb Jones packed a mean punch. The normal defensive contributions were there again, making life very difficult for DeRozan and Zach LaVine (the Chicago duo combined for 56 points but required 48 field goal attempts to reach that total), but Herb’s 17 points were just as timely.

A beautiful coast-to-coast play — very reminiscent of Josh Hart — may have been his biggest highlight, but making three of four from the free throw line sealed New Orleans’ comeback win.

Did you know that Herb is averaging 17.3 points on 55.9% shooting over the last three games? Those clamoring for more offense from him, there you go.

In each of the first two quarters, the Pelicans fell behind by double digits to the Bulls. Chicago had done an excellent job of containing New Orleans’ attack.

“They game planned well, they game planned well,” Ingram told Jen Hale. “They sent a double at Zion all night, at JV all night. They clogged the lanes. We had to adjust. We adjusted late, but we made some shots late too.”

Before the Pelicans made that adjustment, the bench provided a huge assist on both sides of the ball. They brought offense and defense, but most importantly, energy.

Immediately upon checking in, Jose Alvarado helped lift the Pelicans out of a hole to knot up the score at the end of the first quarter. His seven points in the frame was precisely the spark the rest of the team needed.

Soon thereafter, Naji Marshall made an impact. So too did Willy Hernangomez, Trey Murphy and Devonte’ Graham.

“They kept us in the game,” Ingram said. “Especially on the defensive end. They brought a lot of energy into the game: Jose, Naji, Trey, Devonte. They brought a lot of energy into the game so we definitely counted on them today.”

That energy was vital because the Pelicans couldn’t make an outside shot to save their life, sinking only three of 19 shots from 3-point range. It’s incredibly rare to see a team pull out a win these days when shooting so poorly and infrequently.

Asides the woeful deep perimeter shooting, the defense was spotty.

After the Pelicans and Bulls began the second quarter tied at 22 apiece, things quickly fell apart. New Orleans suffered multiple breakdowns — Larry Nance Jr’s absence was felt, giving the Bulls easy driving lanes to the rim or wide open looks from the outside.

In the fourth quarter, I counted at least three instances of where the Pelicans failed to come away with the 50/50 ball because they didn’t react when Chicago launched a shot. Simple boxouts would have prevented the Bulls from continuing possession.

“We were still shit on defense,” Ingram said to Hale. “We know we’ve got to get better on that end. We’ve got to be connected with each other. We’ve got to be in shifts. We’ve got to be on the low man. It starts with me, it starts with CJ, it starts with Zion. We know we’ve got to do better. We will be better.”

The Pelicans were better defensively than they were in Indiana, but Ingram’s right about inconsistency still plaguing this team at times. Fortunately, numerous players contributed enough offensively to offset the miscues — especially BI.

Up next, New Orleans kicks off a mammoth six-game home stand Thursday evening against the Portland Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard versus CJ McCollum. Josh Hart versus his former team.

The second night of this back-to-back promises to be a blast against one of the biggest surprises in the Western Conference.

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.