Pelicans lose big lead in third quarter, then rally past Clippers in fourth to reach playoffs

New Orleans Pelicans coach Willie Green was attempting to determine what precisely was going to work in Friday night time’s play-in recreation towards the LA Clippers.

Here was Green, a first-year head coach, battling it out adjustment for adjustment with Ty Lue, a championship-winning coach thought-about to be among the many finest in the league. The heavyweight combat, as Green referred to as the battle, was tilting in Lue and the Clippers’ path when New Orleans watched a 16-point first-half lead evaporate right into a 10-point Clippers lead by the top of the third quarter.

But when he and his group wanted it most, Green and the Pelicans landed haymaker after haymaker with Jonas Valanciunas touchdown the ultimate knockout blow with 12.6 seconds to go, dunking it house and giving the Pelicans a come-from-behind 105-101 victory.

New Orleans advances from the play-in match because the No. 8 seed to face the top-seeded Phoenix Suns. Their first-round collection begins Sunday night time.

The Pelicans grow to be simply the fourth group in NBA historical past to begin a season 1-12 or worse and make the playoffs becoming a member of the 1996-97 Suns (0-13), the 1984-85 Cleveland Cavaliers (1-12) and the 1967-68 Chicago Bulls (1-12), in accordance to ESPN Stats and Information analysis.

The Pelicans led by 10 at halftime however that rapidly turned the Clippers’ approach as they used a 34-6 run over the ultimate minute of the second quarter and into the third quarter to swing momentum their approach.

Los Angeles got here out gradual after studying that seven-time All-Star Paul George was positioned into well being and security protocols earlier in the day. The Clippers had been already with out Kawhi Leonard, who did not play a recreation this 12 months in any respect.

But Lue’s group did not give up. His adjustment in the third quarter was to begin Robert Covington as an alternative of Ivica Zubac, and New Orleans did not have a solution.

“He was making changes,” Green mentioned. “He took his bigs out. We had been attempting to modify to them. It did not work for us. We put our bigs again in. That did not work for us both.

“So we had been throwing darts on the dartboard attempting to determine it out how might we discover an atmosphere that we will play in on each ends of the ground.”

Eventually, Green landed on a lineup with Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., Trey Murphy and Herb Jones taking part in a lot of the minutes down the stretch. It gave New Orleans a switchable lineup on protection with sufficient shot-making to get issues going offensively.

Part of what acquired the Pelicans going in the fourth quarter was a fiery speech by Green, one thing that Murphy mentioned caught him off guard.

“It was a special aspect of Willie that I have not seen, in all honesty. He acquired actually fired up,” Murphy mentioned. “Most of the time he is very even-keeled, however he acquired actually fired up and lit into us. I feel that sparked us in that fourth quarter. At the top of the day, we did not need our season to be over. We wished to hold taking part in, and he undoubtedly spearheaded that.”

After the Clippers acquired off the primary punches of the primary quarter, the Pelicans answered again with a 27-7 run that gave them a 101-94 lead with 2:10 to go, accomplished by Murphy’s fourth 3-pointer of the night time.

“Guys stepped up,” Ingram mentioned. “Trey Murphy was big in that fourth quarter. Defensive rebounding and flattening photographs. We’re going to want that from him as we go on. … Larry Nance got here in and was actually, actually good on the glass. We wanted one thing from everyone at present.”

It was Ingram who acquired the Pelicans going early, scoring 16 of his game-high 30 factors in the primary quarter. Green mentioned Ingram had been locked in for the reason that group left New Orleans.

“Brandon Ingram is the reality,” Green mentioned. “He simply introduced it. He had that look in his eye from the time we acquired on the aircraft. Shootaround, he is been locked in. He has been ready for this second, for any such second.”

Green additionally credited Nance who got here off the bench with 14 factors and 16 rebounds, together with the dunk that put New Orleans up for good with 4:02 to play.

“Larry was a monster,” Green mentioned. “We type of figured it was going to be a Larry recreation, the way in which they play. Ty Lue’s changes was to go small and Larry has the flexibility to guard plenty of perimeter guys. He’s big, he is sturdy, he can rebound the ball. We do not win that recreation with out his effort.”

It’s the primary time Ingram has made it to the playoffs in his NBA profession, one thing he mentioned he is excited for. McCollum, whom the Pelicans introduced over in a midseason commerce, has by no means missed the playoffs in his nine-year profession after making eight in a row with Portland.

McCollum mentioned he is glad his teammate will get to be a part of him in the postseason.

“He’s certainly one of them ones,” McCollum mentioned of Ingram. “He’s a particular participant. He will get to his spots. Obviously I play alongside him and I’m joyful about that however I’m glad the world will get to see who he really is. I feel typically if you happen to do not make the playoffs, folks type of neglect about you or underestimate your expertise. Now he will get to play on the largest stage. He confirmed tonight how nice he’s.”

For the Clippers, Friday night time marked a disappointing finish to a season stuffed with what-ifs due to the prolonged absences of their two stars. George missed 51 regular-season video games this season, with the Clippers going 24-27 in his absence and 18-13 with him in the lineup. Leonard stays out as he rehabs a torn ACL and has not performed a single minute this season. The group mentioned there may be nonetheless no timetable for Leonard’s return.

Lue mentioned he thinks the Clippers generally is a pressure subsequent season with a wholesome George and Leonard.

“We get our most important guys again,” Lue mentioned. “I imply, we could be harmful. Health is a part of it. We acquired to keep wholesome, proceed to work.”

Lue added: “When you get Kawhi again, top-five participant, PG, a perennial All-Star, your group adjustments tremendously. Guys who’ve taken on larger roles this 12 months who’ve by no means been in this place earlier than, they will type of fall again into their authentic roles. We may very well be very totally different with these two guys again and wholesome. … We could be particular.”

ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk contributed to this report.

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