The New Orleans Pelicans are one win away from clinching a place in the Western Conference playoffs after beating the San Antonio Spurs, 113-103, Wednesday night in a 9-10 NBA game.
CJ McCollum finished the win with 32 points, seven assists and six rebounds, while Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas crossed the 20-point plateau to lead the offensive in New Orleans’ offensive end. San Antonio struck a scoring balance in the attacking end as well, with six players scoring double, and going in a big run in the second half to cut the difference to six points. But in the end, it was not enough for them to overcome the helplessness they faced.
With this victory, New Orleans qualifies to face the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night in a right-hand playoff match to be the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference and meet with the first-seeded Phoenix Suns in the first round.
Here are three tips, along with a summary of our live updates from the game.
1. Swan Bucket Yield
Playoffs are often all about making single shots, and the Pelicans have two of the best players in the money world with CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram. On Wednesday, Ingram dealt a lot of damage to the edge and hit the rotten streak early, then McCollum went to work, displaying a seemingly endless array of steps back and faltering steps. At times, all of them were unguarded – by at least one person – and that shows just how dynamic this team is on the offensive end. I mean, what are you supposed to do with that?
They got a little chilly in the second half when San Antonio ran out, but were right back in action when the team needed them for victory. McCollum and Ingram are big reasons why New Orleans will be tough against the Clippers on Friday, and possibly later if they can get to the first round against the Phoenix Suns. Then you look at next season, with proper Zion Williamson back in the fold, and suddenly the Pelicans look like a serious competitor in the West.
2. Not on the herb
If only the Postseason Awards ballots were due two days later, Herb Jones would surely have gotten more votes for the All-Defense and All-Rookie teams. The 23-year-old rookie, already beloved on the NBA Twitter, showcased his unique defensive talents on the national stage on Wednesday, putting on countless plays that only he seems to be able to make. Take, for example, this play where he picks up a block, steals and dunks (which didn’t count because he was fouled on the floor previously) within seconds.
Jones has been a key part of the Pelicans’ success this season, and that’s exactly why. In a post-season setting, he can not only protect the other team’s peripheral best players, but he’s also a defensive playmaker, picking up steals and blocks that lead to easy buckets on the other end. He also hit 34 percent of the 3-point range this season and went 2-for-4 on Wednesday en route to 12 points, five rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
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3. Another pop game?
Greg Popovich has given no indication that he might retire, nor do we expect him to, but it is always possible that the 73-year-old coaching legend will call it a career before next season. He won a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics and became the all-time NBA leader earlier this season, so it doesn’t look like there isn’t much left to accomplish. However, he does seem to enjoy coaching a younger team in rebuild mode, and he’s been so much more…let’s just say…nice, with the media in recent years.
Whether Popovich retires next week or after another 20 years, he will be the greatest NBA coach of all time, and one of the best coaches ever, in any sport. If this is his last game, Spurs are relegated with the brand effort and agility he enjoys across all of their teams.
After the loss, Popovich was asked if he’d be back for his 27th season, and he answered in a true pop fashion.
“This question is not appropriate,” he said.
“Total coffee junkie. Tv ninja. Unapologetic problem solver. Beer expert.”