The New Orleans Pelicans played at their season's peak to take a 125-114 win from the Phoenix Suns in The Valley. Brandon Ingram scored 37 points, CJ McCollum added 23, and the Pelicans will head back to New Orleans with a chance to take control of the series.
Coach Willie Green said of Ingram's night, "It was amazing, just to see him work. I just stopped calling plays and let him call them. He was getting the ball. His teammates were finding him. He hit some incredible shots."
The hard-fought win was the team's first playoff victory since 2018. In a game of minor adjustments, Green said, "The most important thing with our group is we just kept our poise. They made some runs. (We came) out and executed over and over again in the last five minutes of the game."
Brandon Ingram told the television broadcast crew he "started aggressively," but it was his 26 second-half points that secured the win. Ingram added 11 rebounds and nine assists, falling just short of his first career triple-double in just his second playoff game.
The whole team stood by Ingram after a tough playoff debut in Game 1. Larry Nance Jr. wasn't worried about Ingram bouncing back because "triple-double or not, Brandon Ingram was Brandon Ingram. We all know who he is. He's a superstar. He makes big plays. He's a crunch-time player. He closed this game out for us like he's done all year….I just want to make sure he knows this whole team is rocking with him. Missed shot, made shot, turnover, good pass, bad pass. I don't care. I'm rocking with him. Hopefully, that boosts his confidence. I want that sky-high."
Nance Jr. later claimed Ingram was "the best player on the floor." McCollum added, "(Ingram) is being dominant. He's a basketball savant. He's continuing to learn, ask questions, studying. Watching film on the (training) table, watching the film on the bus, taking care of his body now better. All those things are why he's having success and why you see it on the big stage."
Ingram's belief in his team never wavered either. Ingram shared, "Throughout this year, I had confidence that we would be here. I didn't know what it would look like, but we continued to get better every single day, with Willie being positive every single day and helping guys and teaching guys every single day. I just feel like it's our time."
The Pelicans could extend their time in the postseason by taking control of the series in New Orleans. The next two games are in the Smoothie King Center, and the Suns may be without their MVP candidate. Devin Booker left in the third quarter with a hamstring injury. Booker had 31 points and made seven three-pointers before he departed, leaving an offensive void Chris Paul struggled to fill.
"Everything was flowing," Ingram said. "Everybody was effective on the floor. All five made something happen offensively or defensively…We were just really, really connected today. Where we are, we can run off seven (made shots). We can get three stops in a row. That's just us continuing to get better."
Green said the most significant adjustments were playing better defense and hitting open shots after practice. The Pelicans nailed both objectives, making seven straight shots while holding Paul in check in the fourth quarter. Paul finished 5/16 from the floor to finish with 17 points. His 14 assists helped keep the game close, but the Suns could not close out the game without Booker despite a halftime lead.
McCollum admitted, "We tried to show different stuff, but [Paul has] seen it all, man. He knows what he's doing, how to manipulate defenses. He knows how to get to his spots. I thought the difference was he just didn't make them tonight. He hit some big shots in the fourth quarter last game. He hit a couple of threes that kind of kept them afloat. But credit to our staff for doing a good job, credit our personnel for doing a good job. But also, you need luck in this game. It's a make-or-miss league. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't. Tonight, we made them, and they didn't."
Now it is up to the fans in New Orleans to bring a playoff atmosphere to the Smoothie King Center on Friday for Game 3. Green is still tinkering with his rotations, but now Phoenix has to find suitable adjustments amid mounting pressures and injuries. The Pelicans dealt with those issues all season, but Game 2 showed those obstacles strengthened their resolve.
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