The New Orleans Pelicans are one win away from clinching a spot in the Western Conference playoffs after taking down the San Antonio Spurs, 113-103, on Wednesday night in the 9 vs. 10 matchup of the NBA play-in tournament.
CJ McCollum finished the win with a game-high 32 points, seven assists and six rebounds while Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas both eclipsed the 20-point plateau to lead the charge on the offensive end for New Orleans. San Antonio had balanced scoring on the offensive end as well, with six players scoring in double figures, and went on a big run in the second half to cut the lead to as few as six points. In the end, however, it was not enough for them to overcome the deficit they faced.
With the win, New Orleans advances to face the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night in an elimination game for the right to be the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference and meet the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in the first round.
Here are three takeaways, along with a recap of our live updates from the game.
1. Pelicans bucket-getters
The playoffs often come down to individual shot-making, and the Pelicans have two of the best in the biz with CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram. On Wednesday, Ingram did a lot of his damage heading toward the rim and getting to the foul line early, then McCollum went to work, displaying a seemingly unending array of step-backs and stutter steps. At times they were each unguardable — by one person at least — and it shows just how dynamic this team can be on the offensive end. I mean, what are you supposed to do with this?
They went cold for a bit in the second half when San Antonio made its run, but they went right back to work when the team needed them to seal the victory. McCollum and Ingram are huge reasons why New Orleans will be a tough out against the Clippers on Friday, and possibly beyond if they can make it to the first round against the Phoenix Suns. Then you look at next season, with a healthy Zion Williamson back in the fold, and suddenly the Pelicans seem like a serious contender in the West.
2. Not on Herb
If only postseason awards ballots were due a couple of days later, Herb Jones certainly would have earned some more votes for All-Defense and All-Rookie teams. Already a darling of NBA Twitter, the 23-year-old rookie showcased his unique defensive talents on the national stage on Wednesday, making countless plays that seemingly only he could make. Take, for example, this play where he picks up a block, a steal and a dunk (which didn’t count because he was fouled on the floor beforehand) in a matter of seconds.
Jones was an essential part of the Pelicans’ success this season, and this is exactly why. In a postseason setting, not only can he guard the other team’s best perimeter players, but he also is a defensive playmaker, picking up steals and blocks that lead to easy buckets on the other end. He also shot a respectable 34 percent from 3-point range this season and went 2-for-4 on Wednesday en route to 12 points, five rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
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3. Pop’s last game?
Gregg Popovich hasn’t given any indication that he might retire, nor would we expect him to, but it’s always possible that the 73-year-old coaching legend might call it a career before next season. He won a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics and became the all-time NBA wins leader earlier this season, so there doesn’t seem to be much left for Pop to accomplish. That being said, he’s appeared to enjoy coaching a younger team in rebuilding mode, and has been much more … let’s just say … pleasant, with the media in recent years.
Whether Popovich retires next week or in another 20 years, he’ll go down as the greatest NBA coach of all time, and one of the best coaches ever, in any sport. If this was his last game, his Spurs went down with the trademark effort and grace that he’s imbued on all his teams.
After the loss, Popovich was asked whether he’d return for his 27th season, and he answered in true Pop fashion.
“That question’s inappropriate,” he said.