NEW ORLEANS – Normally low-key by design, Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams had some sharp remarks about the referee after the New Orleans Pelicans took game 4 with a score of 118-103 on Sunday to level the series in the first round at 2- 2.
The Pelicans shot 42 free throws for the Suns’ 15, and it was an 17-2 inequality in the first half. The Suns were called for another 12 offenses in what was a classic physical playoff game.
“You can cut it any way you want,” Williams said. “In a physical playoff match, [the disparity] is fantastic. Coaches should not have to go to the microphone and feel like they are being chopped off to tell the truth. “
It was in the Pelicans ‘game plan to test the Suns’ interior, and Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas shot 21 free throws together. Ingram finished with 30 points to become the first Pelicans player in the team’s history to score 30 or more in three consecutive playoff games. Valanciunas returned from a poor display in Game 3, putting up 26 points with 15 rebounds.
The Pelicans took 46 shots in the paint, but the Suns took 41 themselves.
Phoenix guard Chris Paul did not go to the fault line after going 14 times during the first three games. He went goalless in the fourth quarter, where he had been dominant in the series, tying the playoffs of his career low with just four points in total.
“It’s not like we’re not attacking the basket,” Williams said. “They outplayed us; they deserve to win. It’s a difference in penalty throws that you have to look at … it’s hard [to] swallow. “
Paul offered his perspective.
“It’s like the old NBA, right?” said Paul. “I once asked one of the referees, ‘Are we playing in the old NBA or the new NBA?’ “I was so lucky to play in both of them; we just have to find out which one it will be.”
Pelicans coach Willie Green said his team had the mindset of wanting to get into the paint and into the free throw line.
“We were aggressive … They dominated the paint last game,” Green said. “Had 64 points in the paint. So we were well aware that we had to do better in that area.”
The Pelicans changed their late fighting strategy against Paul. Instead of relying on a switching strategy to deny him drives that had largely failed in the series, Green instructed his team to catch Paul in the fourth quarter. Paul had four of his 11 assists in the fourth, but it was clearly effective in forcing the ball out of his hands.
“I was tired of hearing he broke records during the fourth quarter,” Pelicans guard CJ McCollum said. “It’s just a credit to our defense. Especially our intensity. But it’s also a make-or-miss league. He’s not going to make all the shots. But some nights he’s going to make a lot of hard. Tonight , he missed some shots, he made the last three games. Thank you for our defense. But it’s a make-or-miss league. “
Jose Alvarado, the exhausted rookie guard who has already developed a reputation as a defensive pest, seemed to disrupt Paul with his full-on press defense. Alvarado forced Paul to an 8-second offense and had two steals.
The normally controlled and fourth quarter champion Paul lost his head several times due to frustration. He made a blatant error on Herb Jones – who played a good defense all night with three blocks and two steals – and then Paul was hit with a technical foul. Alvarado also caused Aaron Holiday to make a technical error when the Smoothie King Center audience sang the rhythmic “Jose, Jose, Jose” to the famous “Ole, ole, ole” tune.
“He’s a good boy who plays hard,” Paul said of Alvarado. “He’s a really good energy guy. I’ll get better next game; I have to be.”
The Suns were without star Devin Booker for the second competition in a row as he works back after a hamstring injury he sustained in Game 2 last week. Booker is making progress in his recovery, but there is no official timetable for his return.
Without Booker, the Suns’ attack has gone into a crater. After going 4-of-26 on 3-pointers in a narrow Game 3 victory on Friday, the Suns went only 7-of-27 on Sunday. Bookers replacement in the starting lineup, Cam Johnson, is only 6-of-19 shots in the two games.
“We can not worry [Booker]”Of course we need Book back, but that’s not why we lost the match.”
ESPN’s Andrew Lopez contributed to this report.