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Alvarado, Graham lead Pelicans to scintillating 126-109 victory over Bulls

“The energy in the building was fantastic.” — Willie Green

Chicago Bulls v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans opened their final home stand of the season with a 122-109 victory over the Chicago Bulls.

With the win, the Pels once again moved into the ninth spot in the Western Conference standings.

Devonté Graham (yes, you read that correctly) led the way with a season high 30 points. Graham connected on five of his seven 3-point attempts. The last time he made that many threes was back on Jan. 24 against the Pacers.

Since Feb. 1, Graham had been shooting just over 31 percent from deep before his eruption tonight and 33 percent from the field overall.

CJ McCollum added 25 points and six assists, and Jonas Valanciunas came up big with 16 points and 19 rebounds.

But the key to victory was the Pelicans finding their defensive identity when they had to. The Pels surrendered 39 points in the first quarter before holding the Bulls to 47 in the second half. After allowing Chicago to make 10 of 18 three point attempts in the two quarters, New Orleans forced their foe to miss 12 of their final 16 from beyond the arc.

“We talked about it during the huddle but our guys know that 39 points in the first quarter is not acceptable to win a game,” Willie Green said after the game. “We all talked about it and held each other accountable to come out better. They did to their credit. They came out and executed the game plan defensively that led directly to our ability to play offense.”

Graham said he and his teammates heard Green’s message.

“After the first quarter, coach was just on us about defense and guarding,” he said. “Obviously, Zach (Lavine) is going to do what Zach do, but you’ve got to make other guys beat you, and we all got to be on one string defensively. So, I think our defense stepped up second quarter through the fourth, and then we made plays offensively.”

The Pelicans were sparked down the stretch by the play of a pair of rookies. First, as time wound down in the third, Trey Murphy III snagged an offensive rebound and then…

Murphy’s dunk sent the Smoothie King Center into a frenzy.

“Our crowd and fans were great,” said Green. “The energy in the building was fantastic.”

And then it was Jose Alvarado’s time to shine.

Alvarado harassed Chicago defensively as only he can. And again, Jose proved he could shoot by making four of his five attempts from the floor, including both of his 3-pointers. He dished out three assists as well.

“They gave me the ball at the right time, at the right spot, and me just trusting my work,” he said. “I come in every day trying to be the best version of myself and today went really well.”

New Orleans dominated the Bulls in the fourth, scoring a season-high 40 points while holding Chicago to 24.

Larry Nance Jr. impressed in his Pelicans debut with nine points to go along with four boards and a blocked shot. He showed the offensive and defensive versatility that his come to be known for during his career.

The Pels have won four of six, with winnable games against the Spurs and Lakers ahead this weekend. Brandon Ingram’s return could be imminent as well.

If they can continue to play like this as they get healthier, and if the Clippers and Lakers continue to struggle…

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Instead, just enjoy the win. There was a lot to enjoy.

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 @DMGrubb.