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Ingram’s 34 points, Josh Richardson’s savvy play lead Pelicans to 103-100 victory over Thunder

New Orleans gutted out a big-time win

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans found a way to eke out a 103-100 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday evening despite some real offensive woes out of halftime and cardiac moments during clutch minutes.

“It was a good win,” Willie Green said. “It’s hard to win the NBA, especially on the road. It’s a credit to our guys in the locker room. They all played hard and we just had to gut out a win against a good team. We’ll take it for sure.”

The Pelicans raced out to a quick 17-8 lead behind Brandon Ingram, who was responsible for 14 of those points. While he didn’t maintain that ridiculous pace, Ingram finished with 34 points, including two big jumpers inside the game’s final three minutes.

The Pelicans had previously connected on only one shot outside of the lane in the first nine minutes of the fourth quarter.

Ingram made 14-of-24 field goals and 3-of-5 3-pointers overall.

“Brandon was phenomenal,” Green said. “He can get his shot anywhere on the floor. He was patient. He did a great job of finding his teammates when he needed to. We’ve got to make more shots, but at the end of the day, he had a dominant performance. We needed his scoring tonight.”

Energetic starts are usually not the norm for this team, but the Pelicans also got a nice boost from Jose Alvarado doing a little bit of everything and Trey Murphy’s two blocks in the first quarter.

Jonas Valanciunas did the heavy lifting in the second, helping the Pelicans build a 55-35 cushion with 4:30 left in the first half. The starting center couldn’t be stopped by a Thunder team without a true 5 on the floor. He scored nine of his 14 points in the frame.

The blueprint for the second half was sitting right there for all to see; however, the Pelicans didn’t execute it. They instead hit an offensive wall, scoring only seven points while turning the ball over four times in the first six minutes of the third quarter.

“I thought we had some turnovers early in the third,” Green said. “We didn’t execute as well as we know we can. In the fourth quarter, and like I said, Jrich did a good job of picking up, being physical, getting steals and it kind of ignited our team.”

Josh Richardson was special throughout, but he may have saved the day with his play at the start of the fourth quarter. With the Pelicans nursing a 76-73 lead, JRich proceeded to score on the team’s first three possessions to push the lead to nine.

For a player unfamiliar with a lot of sets, Richardson more than made up for it with heady instincts and fantastic defensive activity. He shrouded Shai Gilgeous-Alexander about as well as one can. His awareness and quick hands came up with a lot of deflections.

Richardson tallied an impressive five steals and two blocks, but don’t overlook his presence of mind with 18.4 seconds remaining. After the inbounds pass was nearly stolen, he quickly pounced on the ball and called timeout. Maintaining possession paved the way for two Murphy free throws to extend the Pelicans’ lead to 103-98.

“JRich was good,” Green said. “You can see his veteran savviness on the floor. He makes great decisions defensively. I thought he changed the game in that fourth quarter with steal after steal. That’s a part of what we wanted when we acquired him is bringing in another veteran who can score but who can defend, who is smart on the floor. It was good to have him tonight.”

Despite a five-point lead with only 9.5 seconds remaining, the Thunder wound up with a shot to tie the Pelicans at the final buzzer.

Following a Jalen Williams lay-up, the Pelicans promptly turned the ball over on the inbounds pass — but it shouldn’t have been noted in the play-by-play as such.

Replay distinctly showed Isaiah Joe deflecting the ball out of bounds, but the referees claimed Alvarado had touched it last. All three officials missed the right call. Thankfully, though, the Basketball Gods must have been on New Orleans’ side because Joe’s 3-point attempt bounced off the rim on the game’s final play.

In addition to that blown call, watching Herb Jones get whistled for a second personal foul early in the first quarter was particularly irksome. Shai swung his elbows to initiate contact with Herb’s face on a drive. It was clearly an offensive foul.

Those two plays could have been determining factors in tonight’s outcome. Sending Jones to the bench at the 8:11 mark of the first could have led to a big night for Gilgeous-Alexander. Fortunately, JRich went on to more than hold his own.

With the victory, the Pelicans take the season series from the Thunder. That could be important as most of the Western Conference is involved in a tight race for most of the postseason seedings. Collecting as many potential tiebreakers as possible seems like a good idea.

One more game remains before the All-Star break — a matchup in Los Angeles against the Lakers on Wednesday. Handing Anthony Davis and company one more loss before the extended rest period just feels right, no?

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