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McCollum’s 40-point night leads Pelicans to 126-117 victory over Spurs

No Zion or BI, CJ stepped up big

San Antonio Spurs v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

With the two biggest starters and a key reserve out, one didn’t expect for the New Orleans Pelicans to enjoy a 20-point lead after the first quarter. Even with the opponent being the lowly San Antonio Spurs. Yet the scoreboard read 37-17 after 12 minutes.

More importantly, they didn’t let off the gas, enjoying healthy leads at the end of every frame.

The most disappointing development on the evening occurred when the Smoothie King Center announcer incorrectly credited Herb Jones for Trey Murphy’s made 3-pointer.

The Pelicans snapped their four-game losing streak in a solid effort, beating the Spurs by a final score of 126-117. The defense was strong the vast majority of time, they shot the ball well enough and the leaders in uniform stepped up to lead the charge.

Without Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance Jr., one should have assumed that CJ McCollum and Jonas Valanciunas would try to carry the load, especially with both coming off exquisite performances against the Bucks.

McCollum was absolutely brilliant and one could have guessed something special was in store after he connected on his first three 3-point attempts. CJ was steady throughout, but he really stepped up his level of play in the fourth quarter after the Spurs had cut the Pelicans’ lead to single digits.

After converting a floater, the starting point guard hit a leaning 3-pointer on the left wing. He then proceeded to knock down several more triples, including a four-point play.

The lead grew from 96-87 to 106-89 in the blink of an eye, effectively putting the game on ice. Although the Spurs didn’t relent, cutting the deficit into single digits again, one never sensed a dramatic finish was in the cards.

McCollum finished with a line of 40 points, eight rebounds and nine assists. He also made 7 of 14 3s and added one steal and two blocks.

Valanciunas dominated in subtler fashion, closing with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Trey Murphy added 15 points, four rebounds and two steals, and Willy Hernangomez had 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists, but Herb Jones caught my eye the most outside of McCollum.

Jones matched Jeremy Sochan’s energy on the court. That speaks volumes. Jeremy is a hard-nosed rookie trying to make a name for himself. Herb is somewhat already established and yet he was clawing and scratching as hard despite his team enjoying a large lead over one of the worst squads in the league.

Jones finished with 12 points, three rebounds, two assists, two 3s and two steals. The numbers don’t necessarily jump out, but his tenacity was evident along with a nice rhythm after returning four games ago. Herb was able to celebrate his first victory on the court since November.

Up next, the Pelicans will travel to Oklahoma City tonight where they’ll face the Thunder tomorrow before a two-day break for Christmas.

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.