After successfully overcoming a 19-point second quarter deficit in their match against the Memphis Grizzlies, the New Orleans Pelicans found themselves with a six-point lead, 124-118, with 11 seconds remaining in the contest.
New Orleans put up an impressive second half, highlighted by Brandon Ingram’s 11 fourth quarter points, and it looked like they were assured of a victory at that point in time.
However, the Grizzlies quickly raced down the floor and set up Dillon Brooks for a three-pointer to cut the Pelicans’ lead to three points with 4.7 seconds left on the game clock. To make matters worse, New Orleans’ top perimeter defender Herb Jones fouled Brooks on the shot which gave him a bonus free throw.
Brooks committed a violation on his foul shot, but Ingram committed an offensive foul on the ensuing inbound play to give the ball back to Memphis. Down by three points, the Grizzlies proceeded to give the ball to Desmond Bane in the backcourt and he did not waste any time accelerating towards their three-point line.
Josh Richardson made a smart defensive play for the Pelicans, opting to give up a take foul on Bane before he had the chance to attempt a three-pointer. Bane made his first free throw attempt to cut New Orleans’ advantage to two points then missed the second shot on purpose to give them a chance to rebound the ball and score a basket to tie the game.
Jaren Jackson Jr. managed to come up with the offensive rebound for Memphis and was subsequently fouled by Larry Nance Jr. as he attempted a putback shot. Jackson was awarded two free throws which he made to tie the game at 124.
The Grizzlies had momentum on their side heading into overtime and it looked like the Pelicans were headed towards a catastrophic loss. Instead, the 2020 NBA Most Improved Player Ingram, who is in the midst of the finest stretch of his seven-year NBA career, took over once again for New Orleans.
Following a fourth quarter where he used his scoring to keep the Pelicans afloat, Ingram shifted to a facilitator role in overtime. New Orleans kicked off the extra period with a 10-0 run that was solely orchestrated by the Duke alumnus. He assisted on each of the four baskets in this salvo, including back-to-back three-pointers by Trey Murphy III, as they essentially sealed the game.
Ingram finished with 24 points, six rebounds, 13 assists, two steals, a block, and four turnovers in the win as he continued his strong play since returning in late January from a two-month absence due to a toe injury. The 25-year-old has averaged 26.4 points on 48.7% field goal shooting, 5.4 rebounds, and 6.4 assists since his January comeback and is a major reason why the Pelicans remain in the hunt for one of the guaranteed playoff berths with two games left on their regular season schedule.
Furthermore, the playmaking abilities of Ingram allowed his teammates to flourish versus Memphis as three of them scored at least 30 points and hit five three-pointers–only the second time in NBA history that this ever happened.
Jones, known more for his defense, led the way for New Orleans in scoring in this game with a career-high 35 points on 11-of-21 field goal shooting, five three-pointers, seven rebounds, three assists, and three blocks. Meanwhile, Murphy hit seven three-pointers en route to tallying 30 points of his own. Murphy also had two rebounds, four assists, three steals, and zero turnovers.
Veteran guard C.J. McCollum was the third 30-point scorer, adding 31 points on 10-of-16 shooting, six three-pointers, 10 rebounds, six assists, and a steal.
The Pelicans have now won eight of their last 10 games and are one of the hottest teams in the league at the moment. They can still secure a top-six seed in the West, though they will realistically have to go through the play-in tournament for the second consecutive year.
Last season, the Pelicans entered the play-in as the ninth seed and won two games to secure the eighth seed in the West. They ultimately fell to the first seed Phoenix Suns in six games in the first round, but this year’s New Orleans team will be a much more difficult match-up with another year of experience under their belts.
The possibility of a Zion Williamson return makes them even more of a wild card and a much more dangerous match-up for the higher seeds.
Regardless of the outcome of this season though, the Pelicans have taken a step forward this year and should be in the thick of the West playoff race for many years to come. This team has been battered by injuries all season long, yet they have remained afloat and the form that they have shown over the past month is quite encouraging.
Ingram is finally blossoming into the star that many expected him to become when the Los Angeles Lakers picked him second overall in the 2016 NBA Draft while Jones and Murphy are proving to be the perfect complementary players for him.
It will be interesting to see what these next few weeks hold for New Orleans as they are a dark horse in the truest sense of the phrase and have the potential to make the upcoming playoffs even more thrilling.
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