The last time the Pelicans faced the Lakers was exactly one month ago when they hammered LeBron James’ squad 123-95 out in Los Angeles.
There was no such luck tonight, buuuuut New Orleans arguably did one better, with the home crowd assisting the team to one of their largest come-from-behind victories in franchise history.
The Pelicans stormed back from a huge deficit in the most impressive fashion, flipping a 23-point hole into a 116-108 victory. In handing James his largest blown lead in a Los Angeles uniform, the Pelicans outscored the Lakers by a 67-39 margin in the second half of a game that they really needed to win.
With this victory, the Pelicans take the season series, clinching a tiebreaker over the Lakers. This could prove pivotal as L.A. trails New Orleans by a mere half game in the Western Conference standings.
After watching the Lakers dominate the the first half, eking out a win was the furtherest thing from all onlooker minds. The Lakers led 69-49 at intermission and the best basketball player of his generation was in a great comfort zone.
LeBron set the tone right out of the gates. On the Pelicans first offensive possession, he picked up Herb Jones defensively from 3⁄4 length of the court. He amassed 10 points within the first four minutes of the game clock.
James would go to score 25 first-half points, scorching the nets for six made 3s. Even Russell Westbrook hit 2 of 3 from long range.
Meanwhile, the entire New Orleans team managed to knock down only 3 of 12 from deep in the game’s first 24 minutes. The Pelicans’ two stars were mildly quiet, with Brandon Ingram sitting on 10 points and CJ McCollum, seven.
But few New Orleanian faithful are going to remember these details as long-lasting memories were created throughout the second half.
With the Lakers leading 78-59 nearly four minutes into the third quarter, the Pelicans went to work. Ingram found his rhythm and then shortly thereafter Trey Murphy practically put the team on his shoulders.
Following a scoreless first half, the 17th pick of the 2022 NBA Draft poured in 16 of his 21 points in the third quarter. He knocked down all three of his 3-point attempts and added a memorable putback dunk over a former teammate.
ON HIS HEAD TREY MURPHY pic.twitter.com/CBVwrKx2aa— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) March 28, 2022
For whatever reason, Tony Brothers called a technical foul on Murphy, taking the rookie by complete surprise.
“Did you see my face after?” Murphy said. “I was pretty surprised, I can’t lie. I do the stank face after every dunk on, but it was Wenyen. That’s my guy — I had to look at him. I guess the referee thought I was looking at him.”
That whistle fortunately didn’t alter Trey or New Orleans’ momentum.
After outscoring the Lakers 41-25 in the third, the Pelicans topped them 26-14 in the fourth. The defense, in particular, was outstanding. The combination of Herb and Naji Marshall limited LeBron to 14 points on 5 of 14 shooting in the second half. Outside of Malik Monk scoring 11 of his 23 points, no other Laker proved a threat after halftime.
“We made a few adjustments at halftime and challenged our group to be more disciplined as we were all over the place,” Willie Green said in postgame. “To their credit, they came out and punched us in our mouth right away. We hung in there and were resilient the whole game. The goal was don’t try to get it all back at one time. We are down 20, but it’s just one stop then one score at a time. We are so proud of that group in the locker room. That was growth.”
James twisted his left ankle early in second quarter, but he played through it to finish with 39 points, nine rebounds, five assists and seven 3s. However, a balanced attack by New Orleans offset those numbers.
In addition to Trey’s 21 points off the bench, Brandon Ingram scored 23 points, CJ McCollum had 18, and Jonas Valanciunas, 19. Jones’ 16 points were also timely.
Don’t overlook, though, the importance of Herb’s six steals — a new career-high — or Naji’s two thefts, and the individual work on the glass by Valanciunas, Ingram and Marshall in limiting the Lakers to 12 second chance points.
Jaxson Hayes dislocated his left index finger not three minutes in but returned to score eight points and dish two assists. It was noticeable that he tried to avoid using his left hand. Props to him for gutting out the injury.
In postgame, a lot of credit was rightly attributed to the raucous Smoothie King Center crowd. They cheered after every positive possession — or Laker misfortune — once the Pelicans had climbed aboard their comeback train in the third quarter.
“It was great,” Green said. “We enjoyed the energy in the building; the booing, when they announced the Lakers’ starting lineup was pretty cool. But the fans here are awesome. They love sports. They cheer for their hometown team.”
“These last few games, the energy has been pretty good,” Ingram said. “They’ve been behind our team when we’ve been down. They’ve given us energy when we don’t have it at all. It’s been good for us. We definitely needed them tonight. They were our energy to come back and fight in this game. I just hope Smoothie King continues to show us that love.”
Shortly after the final buzzer and while postgame interviews were being conducted, The Athletic’s Shams Charania announced that the Pelicans will sign Jose Alvarado to a 4-year NBA contract.
Sources: The New Orleans Pelicans are signing two-way guard Jose Alvarado to a four-year, $6.5 million deal. Tremendous undrafted success story. Alvarado gets $3.4M guaranteed over next two years, including $1.5M for rest of this season on top of $800K he’s made so far.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 28, 2022
As Charania notes, Alvarado is a fantastic success story. He has been a game-changer once entering Green’s regular rotation and is a fan favorite for his tenacious style of play.
Up next, the Pelicans will have a few days off before beginning a 4-game road trip in Portland on Wednesday. After the matchup with the Trail Blazers, New Orleans will do battle against the Lakers, Clippers and Kings before returning home.
But before contemplating the remaining regular season schedule ... and hopefully beyond, be sure to take another minute or two to savor this victory. Today was such a good day in a myriad of ways for New Orleans basketball.