The growing culture took yet another important step forward on Friday night.
In a game that the Los Angeles Lakers needed to get — and they had an all hands on deck approach with LeBron James and Anthony Davis returning from injury — the New Orleans Pelicans didn’t flinch. More importantly, they landed the knockout punch.
The Pelicans closed this matchup on a 15-7 run to beat the Lakers by a final score of 114-111, sweeping the season series (3-0) and perhaps putting the final nail in this L.A. team’s coffin.
New Orleans’ three stars and defense finished the game in style. In the fourth quarter, CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas combined for 23 of the team’s 28 points while Anthony Davis and LeBron James were held to just 2 of 9 shooting.
“We had some poise tonight,” Ingram said. “Late in that game, it was us scoring, them scoring, us trying to get rebounds, stops and pushing our pace and then late down the stretch we had some good execution. CJ made some tough shots. CJ hit some big free throws at the end of that game. Everybody was locked in on the defensive end.”
In a contest that featured 13 lead changes and 15 ties, neither team managed to build a lead larger than six points.
One had a sense that a fierce battle was in store when Jaxson Hayes picked up a Flagrant 1 for his foul on LeBron James in the open court not four minutes into the first quarter.
Thankfully, the Pelicans had McCollum standing in their corner to offset the Lakers aggressive attack. CJ torched the nets for 11 of his team-high 32 points before taking his first rest, knocking down all three of his 3-point attempts.
The first half, though, was a sloppy affair overall. The teams combined for 19 turnovers (Pelicans: 9, Lakers: 10) which fueled the transition games. New Orleans had the fast break points edge (14-11) but trailed in the points in the paint department (12-6).
The Lakers appeared to grab the momentum in several instances during a much cleaner second half, with their largest dagger getting thrown while LeBron James was resting on the bench.
After playing for the entirety of the third quarter, The King needed a breather. But instead of New Orleans swinging an 87-86 deficit decidedly in their favor, things quickly went the other way. Russell Westbrook and Malik Monk combined for three straight makes from 3-point range to open up the Lakers’ biggest lead.
Admittedly, I thought the Pelicans had wasted a golden opportunity. But that’s right when the team’s defense activated.
Over the final 8:16 of the game, the Lakers only added 13 more points to their total. LeBron, who was seemingly getting to the rim or free throw line at will earlier, was unable to find the driving lanes. He finished with a game-high 38 points but had a lone bucket inside the paint and didn’t attempt a single free throw during this stretch.
Credit Herb Jones for making LeBron work, but his teammates also had important defensive plays. Ingram stymied James wonderfully on one driving attempt, but the biggest impact might have Valanciunas’.
Jonas, who finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, came up with a key block of Westbrook (12 points on 15 shots) at the rim and then the center tipped in a Trey Murphy miss on the other end. This sequence occurred with the Pelicans trailing 104-101. If that four-point swing doesn’t happen, the Lakers maybe hold on for victory.
While McCollum carried the offensive load in the first half with 18 points, Ingram was the hero in the second, scoring 23 of his 29 points. BI attributed his success to just playing faster to Bally Sports New Orleans’ Jen Hale and the head coach confirmed it in postgame.
“I just told him he has to play faster and with more force,” Willie Green said. “Sometimes he’ll have a tendency to survey the game, but when he plays fast, there’s nothing anybody can do with him. He started to get it going and you could see right away. He got the ball, he drove, he made plays, got to the free throw line.”
The Pelicans have now beaten the Lakers four consecutive times when Ingram has been on the floor. Individually, Brandon’s cooked his former team in all those instances as evidenced by averages of 27.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 2.5 turnovers, while shooting 57.5% from the field.
Playing for his first time in 18 games, Davis finished with 23 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.
As Willie Green’s fist pump indicated when leaving the floor, the crunch time victory over the Lakers was enormous for his squad.
“It’s been a long journey to get to this point, starting the season off the way that we did,” Green said. “It’s a credit to the guys in the locker room and the people in our organization. More importantly, it’s a credit to God. Just keeping Him first in everything that we do. Giving Him praise and glory and just staying with it. Trusting. Believing. The season’s not over, we still have a long way to go, but we’re just building confidence and momentum at the right time.”
The Pelicans have now won six of their last eight games and are awfully close to securing a spot in the Play-In tournament.
No one believed such an outcome was possible a few months into the season. This New Orleans Pelicans turnaround continues to only get bigger and more pleasant, and tonight it came at the expense of the Lakers. Rejoice!