The New Orleans Pelicans needed to find a way to beat a division rival nipping on their heels for the 10th seed in the standings. They might have wound up issuing a statement in their impressive 124-91 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.
Before tonight, the Pelicans had previously beat the Spurs by double figures in San Antonio only once in franchise history. And that occurred over 14 years ago. But here’s the most interesting stat: every season in which the Pelicans have left the AT&T Center with a win, they proceeded to reach the playoffs.
Random fact: the five times in franchise history that the #Pelicans won a regular season game in San Antonio, they also made the playoffs (2018, 2015, 2011, 2008, 2004)— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) March 19, 2022
Whether Friday night’s 33-point drubbing of the Spurs proves a precursor of greater things to come once more for the New Orleans organization, this victory in itself was thoroughly satisfying.
The Pelicans jumped out to a 27-7 lead after eight and a half minutes. It was a display of near perfect basketball as we’ve seen all season. The team registered no turnovers. The players and ball were flying all around the court in a really good rhythm, but none more so than New Orleans’ two seven-footers.
Jaxson Hayes and Jonas Valanciunas were cooking early, dominating in their own unique ways. Valanciunas bullied Jacob Poetl for a quick line of nine points, seven rebounds and two steals. Hayes, meanwhile, had nine points, four rebounds, one block and one three.
Valanciunas went on to finish with 16 points and 12 rebounds, recording his 43rd double-double of the season. Hayes, the player of the game, filled up the box score to the tune of 16 points, eight rebounds, three blocks and three 3-pointers.
In postgame media with Jen Hale, a new nickname of “Sideshow Lob” may have been born.
The Pelicans led by 25 points after the first quarter, holding the Spurs to just 10 on the scoreboard. That defensive effort set a new record, which soon prompted Gregg Popovich to get thrown out of the game.
Veteran coaches will try any ploy to “wake” their teams up, and with the Spurs in the process of getting humiliated in front of their home crowd, Pop picked up two technical fouls in quick succession.
Popovich couldn’t have been angry at something that had just occurred on the floor — the Pelicans had just committed a shot clock violation. Plus, note his wink after his tirade in the video below!
Gregg Popovich's subtle wink after getting ejected caught on camera! https://t.co/lKHcv9Wdmx— Oleh Kosel (@OlehKosel) March 19, 2022
Fortunately, the Spurs failed to derive any momentum from Pop’s ejection. At halftime, the Pelicans led by 31 points. By the end of the third quarter, the score stood 95-57 in favor of New Orleans.
The Pelicans needed to come in with the requisite focus and execute the game plan with clear precision. Mission accomplished according to the head coach.
“An A++,” Willie Green said in postgame media. “Great overall effort, attention to detail and game-plan discipline on our part.
“It’s the type of effort we want from all of our guys. Just come in, be solid, do your job, continue to trust in your teammates and our guys did that wire-to-wire tonight. I think that’s what was most impressive.”
After New Orleans’ bigs got things started, CJ McCollum went to work in the second quarter. He finished with a game-high 20 points, adding four rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Herb Jones was exemplary again on both ends. Dejounte Murray was held to 17 points on 18 shots and had five turnovers, while the rookie out of Alabama scored 13 points on six field goal attempts. In my opinion, though, his rebounds (seven boards) stood out the most because it personified the work that the Pelicans did inside the lane. They easily won the rebounding (58-40), points in the paint (50-32) and second chance points (26-15) battles.
In their two losses earlier in the season to the Spurs, the Pelicans failed to create such advantages.
Off the bench, Naji Marshall stole the show with 18 points, seven rebounds, two steals and two 3-pointers. However, Willy Hernangomez (11 points, nine rebounds), Jose Alvarado (eight points, six rebounds, five assists, three steals) and Trey Murphy (seven points, three assists) all contributed nicely to the cause too — which included one major exclamation point!
SOMEONE CALL THE POLICE pic.twitter.com/iFCwkiqw8n— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) March 19, 2022
Watching Murphy receive consistent minutes over the last five contests and do something positive each and every time out might be my favorite thing witnessed in these last few weeks.
Elsewhere around the league, the Lakers prevailed over the Raptors in overtime, but in addition to the Spurs falling, the Trail Blazers succumbed to the Nets. So, the Pels continue to trail the Lakers by a game in the standings; however, they now have 2.5-game cushions over the Spurs and Blazers.
With such a spirited victory over the Spurs, there’s hope that this momentum can carry into the Pelicans’ two remaining games on the current road trip. Beating the Hawks in Atlanta on Sunday is the next task, and with Brandon Ingram likely unavailable, walking into that contest with an edge could prove a vital difference-maker.