The New Orleans Pelicans entered tonight’s matchup against the Sacramento Kings having won all eight of their matchups this season when scoring 65 points or more in the first half.
They led the Kings 70-52 at halftime.
If that’s not enough evidence of an impending victory, the first few minutes of the third quarter should have eased any remaining concerns among the doubters.
The Pelicans amassed 12 points on their first five possessions, with Trey Murphy hitting a couple of 3-pointers and making all of his free throws after getting fouled on another deep attempt. CJ McCollum added another triple.
After the flurry, New Orleans led by 26 points, seemingly zapping all thoughts of a potential comeback from Sacramento player minds. The Pelicans proceeded to coast to the 136-104 win, setting a new season high for points in a game this season.
Game Recap: pic.twitter.com/UDyPvow2Wp— Larry Nance Jr (@Larrydn22) February 6, 2023
A lot of players shined offensively, but Murphy was clearly the story. The second-year man came close to setting a number of personal bests, finishing with 30 points, four rebounds, two assists and six 3s.
“BI was out, so somebody had to be BI,” Murphy joked in postgame. “I decided to tap into my BI skillset. That was really it.”
Murphy rarely missed from anywhere, making 9-of-11 field goals, 6-of-8 3-pointers and 6-of-7 free throws. That shooting performance translates to a 106.5 true shooting percentage.
Care to venture a guess as to where this places him on the leaderboard of most efficient 30-point games this season?
According to Statmuse, Alec Burks recorded 117.3 TS% against the Magic on Dec. 28. Murphy’s 106.5 TS% sits just ahead of Harrison Barnes (104.7 TS% on 1/9/2023), Tyrese Haliburton (104.4 TS% on 12/10/2022) and Zach LaVine (103.1 TS% on 1/6/2023).
That’s good company.
This game also featured the 1,000th point of his NBA career.
Murphy often plays within himself, not looking to be too aggressive with the ball outside of maybe a glimpse or two. Without Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson and Jonas Valanciunas though, Murphy picked a good time to fill their void by being a more active participant.
There was a highlight dunk towards the end of the first half. Notice the number of crossover dribbles before beating Keegan Murray on the baseline.
y'all see this @NBA pic.twitter.com/YFs2l4VLQW— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) February 6, 2023
However, my personal favorite was an innocent play when Murphy attempted a corner 3-pointer that earned him three free throws upon drawing a shooting foul.
Murphy often passes on shot attempts when a defender is standing within proximity. He much prefers the open catch-and-shoot 3s despite his lofty height and wingspan. It’s admirable that he doesn’t force things, especially on a team filled with stars, but there will be times when he should. Not only can he shoot over the majority of players assigned to cover him, his gravity demands close shot contests by opponents on a consistent basis. Logic dictates that the closer a defender stands, the higher the odds of picking up a foul.
A lot of good 3-point shooters take advantage of being tightly guarded, drawing fouls with or without shot fakes. Stephen Curry has drawn the most 3-point shooting fouls in the league this season with 24. Jordan Clarkson has 23, Damian Lillard, 19, and Tim Hardaway Jr., 13. CJ McCollum sits on the list with eight.
Trey Murphy had one before tonight.
It would behoove Murphy to try and join this crowd one day because he had the measurables and ability. It would make him that much more of a dangerous weapon on the floor.
Speaking of McCollum, he also hit 9-of-11 shots, finishing with 24 points, four assists and three 3s. The best part is, he didn’t have to overexert himself on the second night of a back-to-back, playing a comfortable 23 minutes.
With De’Aaron Fox unavailable, the Kings offense ran through Domantas Sabonis even more than usual; however, the combination of Larry Nance Jr. and Willy Hernangomez held him to 12 points and three assists.
The New Orleans centers were fantastic elsewhere too. Nance (10 points, nine rebounds) narrowly missed a double-double in 21 minutes of run and Hernangomez had a monster line of 22 points, 16 rebounds and four assists.
Naji Marshall set the tone early by scoring nine of New Orleans’ first 13 points. He finished with 17 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Kira Lewis received good run once again, notching 11 points, four rebounds, four assists and two 3s.
Willie Green added Lewis to the regular rotation a few games ago and it feels like the move will pay dividends both now and in the future. He’s got that great speed we all know and love, but his confidence, skills and body are proving to be on another level or two higher since returning from his ACL injury.
Lewis is a nightmare for opponents in transition and he can also get by defenders with ease in the half court. Watching him defensively, he’s keenly aware of his surroundings. His head sits on a swivel, he understands positioning and he’s always bouncing on the balls of his feet. I absolutely love how he maneuvers around screens. As an added bonus, he often seeks to help out on the glass.
The Pelicans were outstanding on both sides of the ball on Sunday. The offense shot 56.5% from the field and the Kings didn’t hit the 30-point plateau in any quarter. The team also got off to a great start, leading 26-12 a little over eight minutes in, and put the hammer down out of halftime. That’s rarely happened this season and they managed to do it without three of their four biggest scorers.
“It speaks to the professionalism and the character in our locker room,” Green said. “I spoke to the guys about it, Devonte’ (Graham), Garrett (Temple), Willy (Hernangómez), Jaxson (Hayes), Kira (Lewis Jr.), all the guys that don’t necessarily play a ton of minutes or haven’t been playing a ton of minutes. They all came in and they executed over and over again. They executed coverages defensively, and offensively we were able to spread the floor and get out and run. We don’t take that type of stuff for granted. It’s what makes our team special.”
After a dreary losing streak, the Pelicans have won two straight games to steady themselves in the standings. They sit just 2.5 games behind the third-seeded Kings. The nice rebound over the weekend should have an effect on the front office before Thursday’s trade deadline — no panic moves are required to right the ship.
There are no more back-to-backs before the All-Star break so Ingram should be good to go and there’s hope that Williamson’s return is inching nearer.
The cushion in the standings may be gone, but the Pelicans look poised to climb into the top 6 again or even higher.
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.