The New Orleans Pelicans could conceivably be ahead 3-1 in this first-round series if not for Chris Paul’s heroics and Phoenix winning the mental gymnastics in game 3. They have outscored the Suns by 31 points since overcoming first-half jitters during the opening contest.
The offense has shined when ignoring those first 24 minutes. Over the last seven halves of basketball, the Pelicans are averaging 121 points per game on 50.7% shooting from the field. They are dominating the glass by a 161-118 rebound margin. They are enjoying a 42-29 edge in fast break points and a 59-47 edge in second chance points.
Brandon Ingram has looked the part of best player on the floor, especially in the last three games with averages of 33.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists. His shooting has been lights out as evidenced by a 55.6 field goal percentage, a 50.0 three-point percentage and an 85.7 free throw percentage.
It honestly hasn’t mattered which Phoenix defender has been selected for the assignment on Ingram. He’s cooked them all.
Brandon Ingram is cooking against all of the Suns’ wings:— Evan Sidery (@esidery) April 25, 2022
Cam Johnson = 70% (7/10 FGA)
Mikal Bridges = 60% (6/10 FGA)
Torrey Craig = 60% (6/10 FGA)
Jae Crowder = 50% (12/24 FGA)
Additional hope can be derived from Jonas Valanciunas rediscovering his shooting touch (26 points on a 60.0 FG% in game 4) and the Pelicans becoming quick learners in the mental battles of playoff basketball.
Jaxson Hayes was ejected in game 3 after Jae Crowder got into his head. The Pelicans seemingly took turns flustering Chris Paul in game 4, resulting in one of his worst statistical performances of his 141-playoff-game career.
Chris Paul is elite, but he’s also an irritant. So, I really commend the Pelicans’ rookies for reciprocating CP3’s energy instead of folding. Jose Alvarado and Herbert Jones are tough! #NBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/Os1IDtuJuW— GOWIE (@DaKidGowie) April 25, 2022
Without Devin Booker, it’s vital for the Suns to see Paul rise to the occasion. He is their engine and responsible for getting their wings involved in the offense. And based upon his level of commitment to the game that he cherishes so much and the Phoenix crowd sitting in his corner, we should expect The Point God to do his best in bouncing back strongly in game 5.
Despite riding decent momentum, oddsmakers currently list the Pelicans as 6.5-point underdogs. That’s the same line the Heat have over the Hawks tonight despite Miami playing at home and enjoying a 3-1 series advantage.
The Pelicans have to be mentally and physically prepared for an all-out assault by CP3. He’s going to reach into the deepest parts of his bag of tricks in an effort to get Herb Jones into foul trouble, get under the skin of Jose Alvarado and just will the Suns to victory.
Another area of concern is the long-range shooting. The Suns shot 36.4% (9th) from three-point range during the regular season. Through four games of this series, that percentage sits at 29.3% (14th out of 16 teams). On the flip side, the Pelicans have been well above average, knocking down 39.4% (4th) of their threes after making only 33.2% (27th) during the regular season.
Both teams have traded punches well so far, making the necessary adjustments after losses. Can the Pelicans be the first team to win two consecutive games in this series? They’re riding solid momentum and have already beaten the Suns on their turf, but everyone should expect for Phoenix to play desperate.
Game 5 can’t start soon enough!
When: April 26, 2022, 9:00 p.m. CT
Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, TNT
Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM