NEW ORLEANS (AP) – New Orleans started its season 3-16. Now the annoying Pelicans are proving to be a handful for the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference playoffs.
Brandon Ingram scored 16 of his 30 points in the third quarter and the Pelicans beat the Suns – playing without the injured star Devin Booker – 118-103 in Game 4 on Sunday night to give a draw in the first round. Match 5 will be Tuesday night in Phoenix.
“Brandon plays some of his best basketball this season, and he does it on the biggest stage, and it’s great to watch,” said New Orleans coach Willie Green, a rookie head coach who kept his young team together in the middle of its early season struggles and has now forced a best of three playoff game with the top-seeded Suns. “I’m just trying to get out of the way and let him do his thing.”
Ingram says it feels like it’s Pelican time.
“We’ve worked so hard over the year to become a better team,” Ingram said. “My teammates put me in the right places and make me look good.”
Jonas Valanciunas asserted himself in the middle with 26 points and 15 rebounds, and rookie guard Herb Jones, a defensive specialist, played suffocating defense against Chris Paul.
Paul, who had 19 points in the fourth quarter of the Suns’ two playoff wins, was held to four points in 35 minutes. He had 11 assists but made three turnovers.
It was a physical game. The Pelicans converted 32 of 42 free throws, while the Suns only went to the line 15 times and made 10.
“It was like the old NBA,” said Paul, who was picked up at the back lane by Jones almost the entire game. “I said to the referees, ‘Are we playing old NBA or new NBA?’ “I was so lucky to play in both. Whatever it is, you have to adjust early in the game and figure it out.”
Jones said he was simply trying to be more aggressive toward Paul and not give him room to maneuver.
“We were trying to be more disruptive and more physical,” Jones said. “I feel like it’s been a big part of our game, especially in the playoffs. You have to play with a little more fire.”
Suns coach Monty Williams did not want to take away from the Pelicans’ efforts, but he was upset by the inequality in foul shots.
“Forty-two to 15 in penalty throws – cut it the way you want, in a playoff game that’s physical, it’s great,” Williams said. “Coaches should not come to the microphone and feel that they are being beheaded for speaking the truth. It’s not like we did not attack the basket. It’s really hard to do. They outplayed us and they deserved to win, but that’s a difference in penalty kicks. “
The Suns played their second game in a row without Booker, their leading goal scorer, who strained his right thigh after scoring 31 points in the first half of the Suns’ Game 2 loss. He’s out indefinitely.
“We can not worry about that,” Williams said. “The guys who are on the floor did it (win) the other day when we played hard and did not shoot the 3-ball well, but still won the match. (The Pelicans) played much harder. “
Deandre Ayton led the Suns with 23 points and eight rebounds, and center-back JaVale McGee had 14 points.
The Pelicans led 89-85 with 8:05 left and used a 12-0 run to ice it. Valanciunas, limited to six points in a 3-game losing streak, scored 10 points in a 3:34 period of the fourth quarter to help the Pelicans pull away. He punctured his scoring with a 3-pointer from the left wing.
“We showed aggression and we were physical out there,” Valanciunas said. “(The Suns are) a physical team, and their defense is good, and matching their physical characteristics is key.”
New Orleans had a 35-23 lead in the third quarter. Ingram was the catalyst and made 7 out of 10 shots and assisted on two other baskets as New Orleans led 84-74. His rush started on the Pelicans’ first three possessions of the half, with a pair of 15-footers and a layup.
The Suns used a 20-10 run in which Mikal Bridges broke down the New Orleans defense with three layups in the final eight minutes of the first half, to take a 51-49 lead at the break.
Suns: Paul had 28 assists and zero turnovers in games 2 and 3, but had 11 assists and three turnovers on Sunday. In the first three games, his assist-to-turnover ratio was 38-2. … Cam Johnson had 13 points.
Pelicans: Herb Jones had three blocks – all on 3-point attempts. The Pelicans committed 46 turnovers in the first three games for the Suns’ 28, leading to a 72-27 points difference. But New Orleans made just seven turnovers in Game 4.
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