The gritty young Pelicans exploded on the Suns to win 118-103 in a chippy Game 4. The tension between New Orleans and the Phoenix was a powder keg from the opening tip-off.
Willie Green's squad did not blow the opportunity to tie the playoff series 2-2. The Pelicans can look forward to at least one more home game regardless of the outcome in Game 5.
The Pelicans started fast and the Smoothie King Center crowd threw cursed chants at Jae Crowder which rang out for almost 3 minutes at the end of the first half. Crowder got called for a foul just seconds into the third quarter and the sell-out crowd was quickly re-engaged after a halftime popcorn run. The Pelicans never gave up the lead once Jose Alvarado got Chris Paul to commit a turnover in the backcourt with 8 minutes left in the fourth.
The crowd also did not sit down after Alvarado’s celebration. New Orleans knew they could be playing their last home and wasted no time jumping to an early lead. CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram, and Jonas Valanciunas combined for 61 points in the first half. Valanciunas had 20 points and 10 rebounds on just 9 shots at the break.
Valanciunas had a big game thanks to Green’s rotational adjustments. Valanciunas got more time against Javale McGee while Larry Nance Jr. led the committee tasked with corralling Deandre Ayton. The move also gave room for the offense to operate. The reserve unit helped out by adding xxx points to stretch leads when Chris Paul was on the bench.
Green admitted he needed to give the offense room to breathe. He said in order to help limit turnovers the team needs to work on “our spacing. More importantly, I think sometimes we're getting the ball on the side a little too much and they're using the sideline as an extra defender. They're pretty aggressive when we're that close. We can be better with our spacing.”
Ingram was more assertive to start the second half, hitting three shots and dishing an assist to Valanciunas in the first three minutes. Ingram and Hayes both slammed home big crowd-pleasing dunks to lead the team towards a 10-point lead entering the fourth quarter. The lead was stretched to 18 before Green pulled the starters and the fans let out their loudest Sunday serenades.
Ingram finished with 30 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds to lead the way. Valanciunas(26 pts, 15 reb) and McCollum (18 pts, 9 reb) made sure it was never close at the end.
The Pelicans continue their surprising playoff run with a trip to Phoenix for Game 5 on Tuesday. The Suns will need a win or will face elimination in New Orleans next Thursday. The crowd let their opinions be known even at the final buzzer, screaming “Pels in 6” as they waved Chris Paul and Monty Williams off the court.