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McCollum’s franchise-record 11 made 3s drives Pelicans past 76ers, 127-116

CJ and Zion Williamson combined for 78 points!

Philadelphia 76ers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans talked in the morning shootaround about wanting to make a statement against a good team on their home floor before flying out to Memphis to face the Grizzlies on Saturday.

They certainly made one in Friday’s 127-116 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.

Despite the 76ers enjoying one of their best shooting night’s of the season, the Pelicans matched their high proficiency. Furthermore, the Pelicans won the possession game thanks to 14 steals. Philly’s 18 turnovers resulted in 30 points for New Orleans.

“We gave up 30 points off of 19 turnovers,” Doc Rivers said. “We gave up another 14 points off of offensive rebounds. That is 44 points before you even start the game. That is like spotting a team 44 points, and then saying, ‘Now let’s play.’ You are not going to win that game.”

Leading the charge was CJ McCollum, who scored a season-high 42 points and also set a new franchise record for made 3-pointers with 11. He was phenomenal from start to finish, but he stamped his presence during the second quarter, scoring 15 points on 5 of 6 shooting from distance.

“When he plays with that type of force and that pace, his slow to fast was really good, he just got it going,” Willie Green said. “The basket got bigger and bigger as the game progressed and that’s how he has to play. He may not have 40 every game, but he’ll have major impacts. He’s done it throughout the course of the season, especially when we had guys out. But, when he plays like that he is tough to guard.”

Several of McCollum’s 3-pointers came in transition as he was looking to shoot the deep ball at every opportunity.

“I was trying to shoot as many 3s as possible,” McCollum said. “I’ve gotten so many reps over the course of my career, but especially lately. I’m just trying to generate good, quality looks from 3. It’s a high percentage shot for me.

“Transition 3s, one of my guys calls them a go-to-hell 3. It’s a transition 3. Everyone runs into the paint. You look, and it’s me and Embiid. I’m not going to go into the paint with him. Nah, I’m just {going to} raise up.

“I didn’t know what the record was. I know I had 10 because Larry {Nance Jr.} keep going like this. (CJ showed both hands and wiggled all 10 fingers for media.)”

At one point, McCollum connected on four 3s within a span of less than two minutes in the second quarter.

For the month of December, McCollum is shooting 45.1 percent from 3-point range.

“Prior to him coming to New Orleans, I had a lot of respect for CJ,” Zion Williamson said. “A player of that caliber – what he has done at Lehigh University and even prior to Lehigh University is not on accident. He has worked for it and proved it. He has constantly shown it year in and year out.

“What makes CJ (McCollum) such a great person is when I actually got to interact with him and spend day-to-day with him, seeing his work ethic and just having conversations about how to handle certain things in the league. We talk about what’s going to happen when I do certain things versus when other people do certain things. Him and Larry Nance Jr. really put me on game to a lot of things. Interacting with those two, I’ve really gained a lot of respect for them.”

Coming off a career-high 43 points against the Timberwolves, Williamson posted another excellent night, finishing with 36 points on 19 field goal attempts. He went to the free throw line 16 times, converting 10 attempts.

“He’s a special talent,” McCollum said. “He’s special and he’s hard to guard. You saw tonight. He gets what he wants, he’s patient and he made the right plays and passes. He makes the game easy for me.”

Williamson was particularly effective when Embiid was on the bench. In the opening possessions, Zion was staring at PJ Tucker’s chest, with Embiid always standing only a couple of steps away. That’s a formidable two-man wall. However, Williamson went on to score 16 of his first 24 points when Philadelphia’s All-NBA center was off the floor.

“Embiid is a such a force when he’s on the floor,” Green said. “When they take him off the floor, we want to play even faster. Try to get up and down, try and attack. Not having him in the paint to block shots, guys were getting to the basket a bit easier.”

That effort got Williamson into a nice rhythm, and with McCollum firing bullets, the Pelicans’ dynamic duo bested Philly’s fearsome combination of Embiid and James Harden by a 78-57 points margin.

As it’s usually the case, other Pelicans rounded out the performances of the stars nicely.

Jonas Valanciunas had 10 points, nine rebounds and two blocks while battling some early foul trouble. Willy Hernangomez was really good in his first stint scoring seven of his 13 points when going toe-to-toe with Embiid. The backup center finished with a team-best +17 plus-minus.

Jaxson Hayes did well in guarding Harden several times when matched up against the 10-time All-Star one-on-one.

Naji Marshall, Dyson Daniels and Jose Alvarado combined for nine of the team’s steals, with most of them coming in the first half that helped flip an early 16-6 deficit into a 67-60 halftime lead.

Grand Theft Alvardo was a particular nuisance for Philly.

“I thought {the bench} was huge,” Green said. “Our game plan discipline was at a high level tonight, I told the guys. Honestly, it’s just such a blessing to coach a team like this. Once again, from 1 to 17, these guys are bought in, they play hard win or lose, they compete at a high level, they stay connected and they enjoy coming to work. We all enjoy working together. It’s always great to see them come in and impact the game like they do because they put the work in.”

Friday’s win marked New Orleans’ fifth straight and they remain atop the Western Conference standings in a tie with the Denver Nuggets. Both teams sit 1.5 games ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies — the Pelicans’ opponent in less than 24 hours.

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