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Pelicans take down Spurs 113-103; will face Clippers Friday

Published: Apr. 14, 2022 at 8:06 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 14, 2022 at 8:44 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Good things come to those who wait.

Just like the nasty weather that was brewing outside Wednesday night, Pelicans fans stormed into a sold-out Smoothie King Center wearing red and making a thunderous noise all the way to a 113-103 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.

Pelicans center Jonas Valančiūnas was impressed with the way that the New Orleans crowd brought their A-game.

“Wow, it was really, really loud,” Valančiūnas said in postgame. “Some moments I had to cover my ears. It was great. I mean great atmosphere, great support. That’s what we need and it’s fun to play in front of this crowd.”

Pelicans fans wear red in a sold out Smoothie King Center Wednesday night
Pelicans fans wear red in a sold out Smoothie King Center Wednesday night(Mykal Vincent)

The Pelicans are now one final Play-In Tournament win away from making the playoffs in the Western Conference for the first time since 2018.

In 2018, the Pelicans’ future seemed to be changed for the better as they swept the Portland Trailblazers in the opening round as a lower seed that year before being knocked out of the postseason in a moderately competitive series with the eventual NBA Champion Golden State Warriors. However, while the 2019 season was already in progress, former Pelicans franchise star Anthony Davis blew up the team’s plans by requesting a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers and exiting that era in New Orleans wearing a Looney Tunes shirt that read “That’s All, Folks!”

That’s all, folks, indeed.

Fast-forwarding to the present day, there’s an irony at play in that the Pelicans’ newest star, guard C.J. McCollum was on that 2018 Blazers team that was run out of the gym. If the Pelicans are to return to the playoffs with a win over the Clippers on Friday, McCollum will be on the other side of the line leading the charge for New Orleans.

While the Pelicans had already put themselves in a position to reach a spot in the Play-In Tournament before the trade deadline, bringing in a vet like McCollum, who currently has never missed the playoffs in his career, only increased the team’s odds of possibly snagging the 8th seed. However, first-year head coach Willie Green and his team understand that taking down a Clippers team feeding off the performances of a healthy Paul George will be no easy task.

“We will celebrate tonight and tomorrow morning we will get up and start preparing for the Clippers,” Green said after the win over the Spurs. “We have a good idea of who they are as a team, but it’s going to be another extremely difficult challenge for us. We just have to get ready.”

The Clippers lost their first Play-In Game to Minnesota 109-104 last Tuesday due to a late-game comeback by the Timberwolves. But the Pelicans can expect to see the Clippers bring the best version of themselves on Friday as both teams will be facing elimination.

Defending the teams that shoot well has been somewhat of a weakness for the Pelicans this season and they’ll have to figure out which matchups will work against one of the league’s best teams from the field.

The Pelicans’ defense was in gear against the Spurs on Wednesday night and to compliment that on the offensive end, McCollum was rigged and ready, dropping 27 points in the first half and ending with a stat line of 32 points, 6 reb., and 7 ast.

Brandon Ingram was second in command with 27 points, 5 reb., and 5 ast. with several clutch buckets in the fourth quarter over the Spurs.

The Spurs attempted a comeback after the Pelicans built a lead of over 20 points by ripping off a 16-1 run in the fourth quarter. Valanciunas put an end to the drought with a couple of big baskets in the low post. He quietly put together a double-double of 22 pts and 14 reb.

“JV (Jonas Valančiūnas) was great,” McCollum said postgame. “We got him some touches in that third quarter. I think he was really aggressive. Obviously, he rebounded the ball well finishing with how many rebounds…14. So, he was very aggressive.”

In these crucial games, the Pelicans are also relying heavily on a trio of rookies that arguably could be considered the best draft grouping in the NBA for their class. Herb Jones, Jose Alvarado, and Trey Murphy III have all been important defensive contributors while also being able to contribute cutting, distributing, and perimeter shooting on the offensive end.

“I thought Herb (Jones) was great,” McCollum said. “I thought everybody was really locked in. Jose (Alvarado) did a great job playing in a hostile environment. You could tell he was excited about the opportunity and he delivered.”

All rookies combined for 26 points. Alvarado made 3 of his 4 total 3-point attempts.

If the Pelicans get the win on Friday, they will take the 8th seed, facing the Phoenix Suns, who hold the top spot, in a best of 7 series.

The Pelicans will take on the Clippers at the Crypto.com arena in Los Angeles and the game will air on TNT at 9 p.m.

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