The New Orleans Pelicans continue to be one of NBA history’s biggest in-season turnaround stories after defeating the San Antonio Spurs 113-103 on Wednesday night.
With the win, the Pelicans get the right to face the Los Angeles Clippers in Crypto.com Arena on Friday night. The winner qualifies as the eighth seed in the Western Conference and will play the No. 1 seed, Phoenix Suns, in the first round.
Before the game, all of the attention was on Zion Williamson and his pregame workouts that featured this acrobatic 360 masterpiece.
Zion casually ripping down a 360 🆙 pic.twitter.com/JnhoU0bdjZ— NBA (@NBA) April 14, 2022
But when the game started, the sellout crowd in the Smoothie King Center focused their attention on their newest franchise player CJ McCollum, who was the difference in keeping a very balanced Spurs team at bay.
“He was great,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said of McCollum’s importance, per ESPN. “He set the tone early. He understood the moment, and it sort of calmed the rest of the guys down. We just got the ball to him, and he made play after play, score after score, and then the rest of the guys that just started to feed off CJ.”
Nothing illustrated that point more than when Brandon Ingram went to the bench with three fouls in the first half. McCollum spearheaded a 14-4 run over the final 3:36 of the half with two three-pointers and two layups to put the Pelicans up 61-50.
McCollum made 10 of his first 12 shots, including 2-3 from long range, to drop 27 first-half points and finished the night with a game-high 32 points.
🔥 @CJMcCollum was RED HOT in the first half scoring 27 points on 10/12 FGM! #WBD— NBA (@NBA) April 14, 2022
The @PelicansNBA will now advance in the #MetaQuestPlayIn to face the LA Clippers with the 8th seed in the West on the line!
PELICANS vs. CLIPPERS
Friday, April 15th at 10pm/et on TNT pic.twitter.com/cllyfGpdFH
New Orleans counts on the Lehigh product for his veteran leadership, which he acknowledged after the game in his press conference.
“I was just trying to be locked in and aggressive early,” McCollum said. “The playoffs is a lot of antics, a lot of momentum plays, a lot of back and forth. You’ve got to be stable and mentally locked in to withstand a certain level of (chaos). … There’s going to be a lot of winning in our future.”
McCollum had plenty of help as well. When San Antonio made their late run, Ingram shook off his early foul trouble to finish with 27 points, including two huge jumpers. He started the Pelicans’ in-game dunk contest with this monster dunk over Zach Collins.
Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas had a double-double with 22 points and 14 rebounds.
By the end of the game, the only dunk that the crowd was going crazy over was Herb Jones’ baseline slam matching Ingram’s to put the game away.
This victory ends New Orleans’ postseason drought that started back in 2018.