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Pelicans summon amazing effort in 118-103 victory to even series against Suns

Special memories were made in game 4!

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Four Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Mother Nature hinted that something good was in store for New Orleans.

Roughly two hours before the tip-off of game 4, a spectacular rainbow seemingly sat atop of the Smoothie King Center and numerous other landmarks throughout the city.

The Pelicans, after hanging tough in the first half, outclassed the Suns out of the locker room in the second, putting up 17 more points on the scoreboard to win going away, 118-103.

The 15-point margin of victory represents the largest by either team in this series.

With the first-round matchup tied at 2-2, New Orleans finds themselves in what can now be described as a three-game series with the best team in basketball — but one that is searching for answers.

The Suns have been without Devin Booker for the last two games due to a Grade 1 right hamstring strain. His status for the remainder of this series is murky at best. With all eyes shifting fully onto Chris Paul, The Point God delivered in game 3. That version of CP3 wasn’t seen on Sunday night.

Herb Jones and Jose Alvarado took turns hounding Paul into an unimpressive stat line of four points, 11 assists and three turnovers. He made two of eight field goal attempts, and more often than not, didn’t look to dominate. Grand Theft Alvarado also made a surprise appearance, leading to a patented steal at the 2:40 mark.

“He can’t wave me off of that one,” Alvarado said postgame. “I got him. I got him. That’s one thing I wanted to do, actually. I got him on my list. So, I’m good {now}.”

To be fair, Jones and Alvarado imposed their will throughout against everyone who stood in front of them, ensuring the Suns wouldn’t outhustle or outwork the Pelicans with their hard-nosed defense and incredible presence of mind.

Before his two second half steals helped seal the New Orleans victory, Jose took a page out of Jae Crowder’s book by taking a charge against the Phoenix forward just before halftime. Then Jones registered three impressive blocks in the second half, swatting a trio of 3-point attempts by the Suns.

Of course, this game contained so many more glorious moments than of making Paul look human or posting other brilliant individual defensive plays. Brandon Ingram displayed a superstardom prowess for a third consecutive contest, Jonas Valanciunas set a new personal career-high for points scored in the playoffs and the Pelicans offense simply shined in what felt like a must-win contest.

Ingram scored 11 points in the first quarter, but his play to begin the third quarter really set the tone for the rest of the game. BI scored New Orleans’ first six points and then assisted on two more buckets to fuel a 10-2 run out of the locker room.

“It was great,” Willie Green said. “I could see that his mindset right away was, I’m going to get us going, and that’s what he did. He has moments where I can kind of see it in his eye that he’s going and I try and move out of the way and let him do what he does.”

Ingram finished with 30 points, four rebounds and five steals. His 119 points scored through his first four career postseason games have only been surpassed by four other players since the NBA-ABA merger: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Luka Doncic and Ja Morant.

Speaking of notable efforts, Valanciunas finally resembled that force we witnessed over the course of the regular season. He made everyone quickly forget about his shooting struggles over the first three games of the series, knocking down 9 of 15 from the field to finish with a new playoff career-high of 26 points. He also added 15 rebounds, four assists and one three-pointer.

Green rearranging his starting center’s rotation minutes likely played a factor in his success. Valanciunas’ first rests in the first and third quarters came quicker and so he spent more time battling against JaVale McGee. While the Suns reserve center scored 14 points, Valanciunas thrived also offensively against his counterpart, finding a good rhythm that’s been missing for too long of a stretch.

Neither team did much damage from the outside, but the Pelicans’ aggressive attacking style led to 27 more free throw attempts on the night without sacrificing their execution. . Their physicality stood out and New Orleans turned the ball over just nine times — a far cry from their average of 15.3 turnovers through the first playoff games.

In what’s proving to be a good indicator of the wins and losses, the Pelicans were outscored in the paint by just two points (54-56). The same margin (44-46) was witnessed in their other series victory. In games 1 and 3, New Orleans was outscored by an average of 19 points in the paint.

CJ McCollum tallied 18 points, nine rebounds and two assists, and Herb Jones had 13 points, two rebounds, three assists, two steals and three blocks.

For a second straight night, Devonte’ Graham consistently knocked down shots (eight points, 2-3 three-pointers). Larry Nance Jr. had six points, seven rebounds and three assists, and Naji Marshall added six points, including this beautiful sequence.

However, every Pelicans player who stepped onto the floor was showered with cheers at some point. After Trey Murphy was fouled on a first-quarter putback attempt, he motioned to fans for a little more noise. He received a standing ovation.

For those standing in the back of the room, let’s write this again: New Orleans proved once more to the world that it is a basketball city. There were multiple “Jose, Jose, Jose, Joseeee” chants, while Jae Crowder was endlessly berated with cries of “Fuck Jae Crowder.”

“I love New Orleans,” Green said. “I love the people here. That was amazing. The Jose chant — it was all kinds of stuff going on {so it was} hard for me to focus on exactly what they were saying. I know they’re rooting for us. They’re behind us. That’s a team that hopefully our city and our community can be proud to root for.”

The Smoothie King Center fans was indeed proud. The roars never ceased. We’ll get a chance to behold the electricity at least once more in game 6, but first a matchup against these Suns looms on Tuesday in Phoenix.

Just imagine how loud SKC will get if the Pelicans return home and have an opportunity to eliminate the best in the West.

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 @OlehKosel.