NEW ORLEANS — What started out as a promising weekend for the New Orleans Pelicans was slowly turning into a nightmare.
In a back-to-back deciding game against the two teams they face in the Western Conference qualifying race, the Pelicans lost by four points to the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday, then found themselves at 23 against the Los Angeles Lakers. Sunday evening.
But after a 41-point third quarter, the Pelicans cruised to a 116-108 win, slipping to ninth place in the West with a half-game lead over the Lakers and a one-game lead. and a half on the Spurs.
“We made some adjustments at halftime, just challenging our squad to be more disciplined,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “We were all over the place. To their credit, they came out and hit us straight in the mouth. We hung on. We were just resilient throughout the game. The goal and the key for us is to not trying to get it all at once. Just one save. One score at a time. We’re so proud in the locker room. That was growth.
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, it was the biggest lead blown in a game that LeBron James has suited for the Lakers. After the game, he called the loss a “microcosm” of the team’s season.
“We haven’t been able to last all year, and tonight was one of those cases again,” James said. “It’s like s—. I mean, excuse my language, but that’s what it does. I came in with the mindset understanding that it was a playoff-type atmosphere, playoff implications and things of that nature. … It feels like a wasted opportunity, obviously, for me and for our team. We couldn’t do it.”
Lakers coach Frank Vogel said the team needs to move on quickly from Tuesday’s game against the Mavericks in Dallas.
“It hurts. This game hurts. It was a big game,” Vogel said. “But we have to regroup, we have to find a way to beat Dallas and get some wins here. Time is running out. We came out with the appropriate urgency for this game, but we couldn’t close it. “
The performance was stunning due to how Los Angeles dominated the first half. James scored 25 points from his high of 39 points. The team shot 66.7 percent from the field and hit 11 of 19 3-pointers. Everything was going the Lakers way.
But just like they did in Los Angeles on Feb. 27, the Pelicans used a huge third quarter to change the momentum. On that date, they outscored the Lakers 44-25 in the quarter. This time they outclassed them 41-25.
Los Angeles still had a four-point lead going into the fourth quarter, but New Orleans took it for good on a Brandon Ingram pull-up with 5:01 left.
“It shows that we believe in each other,” Ingram said. “We were down and in the face of adversity at this point where LeBron was getting everything he wanted. Everyone stayed calm. We executed. The guys made big plays on the defensive stretch.”
Ingram had missed 10 straight games with a right hamstring injury. He was limited to just under 26 minutes but responded with 26 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
“Good to see him back, No. 1,” Green said. “We’ve missed him. The things he does on the ground are amazing. His size, his strength, his ability to shoot over guys. I think more than anything our guys understand the moment.”
The Pelicans also played CJ McCollum (sprained left ankle) and Jonas Valanciunas (right foot) after each was a game-time decision. McCollum had 18 points and Valanciunas finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds.
New Orleans nearly lost Jaxson Hayes in the first quarter after dislocating his left index finger, but he came back with his fingers stuck together on his left hand.
But perhaps the Pelicans’ biggest boost of the night came from rookie Trey Murphy, who had 21 points, all in the second half. Murphy scored 16 in the third quarter as New Orleans began its comeback.
“I just think he prepared for those times,” Green said. “Played in some G League games. Hard work, going to the gym and working on his art. He’s getting better and better as the season progresses. We needed all of his 21s tonight. We’re proud of him.”
Murphy’s minutes have been inconsistent this season, but once Ingram suffered a hamstring injury, he was recalled from the G League to receive major rotation minutes. Over the past 10 games, Murphy has averaged 9.9 points while shooting 48.7% from deep.
“Just be confident and know that’s what they drafted you for,” Murphy said. “I shot at a high level my last year in college, and I continued to work on that and got better. For our team to win, I have to contribute in some way. another. Shooting is definitely a way for me to do that.”
The Pelicans have seven games left to play, including five on the road. They begin a four-game road trip Wednesday against the Trail Blazers in Portland. The game after that? A trip to Los Angeles to face the Lakers for the last time this season.
Green knows the confidence from Sunday’s win could go a long way in determining whether the Pelicans have any playoff games ahead of them.
“We might see one of those teams again,” Green said. “It was a tremendous momentum generator for our group.”
ESPN’s Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.