McCollum and Ingram push Pelicans past Spurs in play-in game

CJ McCollum have the New Orleans Pelicans go early and Brandon Ingram took over late to send the Pelicans to Los Angeles for a shot at last place in the playoffs.

McCollum scored 27 of 32 points in the first half to lead the young Pelicans to a 113-103 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night. New Orleans will face the LA Clippers on Friday night for the eighth seed in the playoffs.

“He was awesome,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said of McCollum. “He set the tone early. He understood the moment, and that kind of calmed the rest of the guys down. We just handed the ball to him and he did play after play, score after score, then the rest of the guys who just started feeding on CJ.”

Playing in his 57th playoff game, McCollum showed a calming presence to his younger teammates. Rookies Herb Jones, Jose Alvarado and Trey Murphy played big chunks of the fourth quarter.

“I was just trying to be locked down and aggressive early on,” McCollum said. “The playoffs are a lot of antics, a lot of momentum, a lot of back and forth. You have 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 was not alone. Ingram shook off trouble to add 27 points and center Jonas Valanciunas added 22 points and 14 rebounds as the Pelicans stars delivered under pressure in New Orleans’ first postseason game since 2018.

“New Orleans’ top three players all played very well, and if that happens you’re going to lose,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of his team’s inability to contain McCollum , Ingram and Valanciunas. “We stayed there and came back, but then we made the same mistakes we made in the first three quarters – non-physical defending.”

“We just play for each other,” Valanciunas said of the 81-point combination with McCollum and Ingram. “When the going gets tough, we need someone to slow the game down, which (CJ) does. Next up is Friday.”

Popovich said his young team, which averages 25, learned a lesson the hard way.

“It’s the playoffs, and you gotta love people,” Popovich said. “Grumbling is important. Ingram has scored two goals in a row right in the middle of the aisle without anyone touching him. It’s a great lesson for our guys.”

The Pelicans, who finished ninth in the West after starting the season 3-16, will play the Clippers with the winner against the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in the first round. New Orleans has beaten Los Angeles in three of four meetings this season.

The Pelicans appeared to be heading for a rout, leading 96-75, with 10:39 to go, but the 10th-seeded Spurs used a 16-1 run over the next 5:25 to cut it to 97 -91. The Pelicans missed seven straight shots during the run.

Ingram hit a pair of soft jumpers in the lane and Valanciunas added a short jumper to put New Orleans back on top, 103-91.

Devin Vassell led San Antonio with 23 points. Dejounte Murray had 16 points, but went just 5 of 19 from the floor while trailed by Pelicans rookie defensive scorer Herb Jones.

“You have to take the good and the bad and learn from it,” Murray said. “We had guys who weren’t shooting well, starting with myself. They were physical. I’m not looking for excuses.”

After Ingram went to the bench with three fouls 5:17 before halftime, McCollum carried the Pelicans offensively. In a 14-4 run in the final 3:36 of the half, McCollum made two 3-pointers and broke through the San Antonio defense for two finger layups on strong lane drives as New -Orléans took a 61-50 lead.

McCollum had 10 of his first 12 shots, including 2 of 3 from long range, despite consistent double teams.

Associated Press report.

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