The New Orleans Pelicans rallied back from a 13-point fourth quarter deficit to defeat the depleted Los Angeles Clippers 105-101 in a play-in game Friday night at Crypto.com Arena and clinched the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference for the NBA playoffs.
With the victory, New Orleans will face the No. 1 seed Phoenix Suns on Sunday in the first round of the playoffs.
Brandon Ingram led the way with 30 points, six assists and six rebounds to lead the Pelicans while CJ McCollum chipped in with 19 points and three assists to help New Orleans reach the playoffs for the first time since 2017-18. Zion Williamson remained out as he had been all season due to a foot injury.
“Willie Green is a heck of a coach,” said Larry Nance Jr., who finished with 14 points and 16 rebounds for a New Orleans team that started the season off 1-12.
Green, the Pelicans first year coach preached “You’ve got to fight!” when his team was going through adversity while trailing by double digits heading into the fourth period.
“It was an emotional game, a ton of highs and lows,” Green said. “But for us, our mentality is we’re going to continue to fight. We’re not going to fade out.”
The Clippers were without star Paul George due to health and safety protocols, receiving the brutal news Friday morning that they would be shorthanded in their biggest game of the year. Los Angeles had already been without star Kawhi Leonard all season while he rehabbed an ACL injury as the Clippers missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2017-18 season.
“It’s a disappointed locker room, but those guys in there have nothing to hang their heads about… I know we didn’t make the playoffs, but considering everything that went on this year, I’m very proud of our guys,” said Clippers coach Ty Lue.
Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson each had 27 points for the Clippers. Norman Powell had 17 points off the bench while Robert Covington added 14.
“Covid, injuries, the comebacks, everything. That was fun. We’ve been through it all,” said Nicolas Batum. “Trades. Missing players. We had everything, still 8th seed in the West without our best player. Basically, without our two best players… I love this team.”
The Pelicans jumped out to an early advantage and led by as many as 16 points in the first half the score was 56-46 in favor of New Orleans at halftime.
The Clippers flipped a switch in the third, outscoring the Pelicans 38-18, clicking on all cylinders while using a miraculous 20-2 run. Jackson and Morris combined for 16 points during the spurt that led to the Los Angeles taking a commanding 13 point advantage.
However, the Pelicans closed the game out with a 31-17 quarter, forcing Los Angeles into tough shots and sending the Clippers to the charity stripe where they missed 12 free throws on the night.
“I thought our guys got a little tired,” said Lue, as the Pelicans used a 11-0 run and 10-0 run in the fourth to capture a 101-94 lead after a Trey Murphy III 3-pointer with 2:10 remaining. “We didn’t continue to keep attacking.”
Los Angeles got within two in the final 1:17, but missed 2 of 4 pivotal free throws that led to New Orleans capturing its 105-101 win while also ending the Clippers season.
“I had the most fun I’ve had all season. I got back to that joy of just having fun. The team made it that way. The guys made it that way,” Covington said.
The Clippers will look forward to an offseason that focuses on getting its two cornerstone pieces back on the floor healthy again as Los Angeles was just in the Western Conference finals last year.
“It sucks the season ended the way it did, but I can’t help but smile thinking about next year,” said Jackson on getting Leonard and George back next season.
“When you get Kawhi back, a top 5 player. When you get PG back, a perennial all-star. The team changes tremendously… We can be very different with those two guys back and healthy… We can be special,” Lue said.