Ingram Leads Pelicans to 8th and Final Playoff Spot, with Win Over Clippers.

The New Orleans Pelicans started they’re 2021-2022 season looking like a team that wouldn’t get anywhere close to a playoff berth. They began the season 1-12 and never got less than eight games within the 500. mark this season. After a win on Wednesday night against the San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans walked into Friday night’s matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers with a chance to get to the playoffs for the first time since the 2017-2018 season.

A 105-101 victory over Los Angeles thrusted New Orleans into the final spot in the Western Conference and a chance to play the team with the best overall record in the league in the Phoenix Suns. 

Photo By: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

They were led by Brandon Ingram who put this team on his back from the beginning. He scored a game-high 30 points with 16 of those coming in the first quarter and didn’t attempt a single 3-pt. He also had a team-high six assist. 

“This feels wonderful,”Ingram said when asked about his first appearance in the playoffs in five seasons. “Just to have a chance to be in the postseason this year, I’ve never had a winning record and never been in the postseason. Now I will get a chance to showcase my talent on the biggest stage.” 

New Orleans led by as many as 15 points (39-24) early in the second quarter and they knew they still had a fight on their hands because the Clippers have 12 wins this season when trailing by 13+ this season (most in NBA). 

Newly acquired Cj McCollum who came over from the Portland Trailblazers before the trade deadline had 19 points (9-24 FG) after a big 32-pt performance this past Wednesday night against the Spurs. McCollum, when asked about teammate Brandon Ingram “He’s a special player, and I’m glad the world gets to see how good he truly is.”  

Another key player that didn’t get as much attention as McCollum in the midseason trade with Portland, is Larry Nance Jr. He came up huge for New Orleans in his 24 minutes on the floor. He had 14 points (7-8 FG) and a game-high 16 rebounds (7 off) and was the only player to notch a double-double in the game. Rookie Trey Murphy III also had 14 points. “This team is resilient,” said Nance. “They started 1-12. That’s so hard to pick yourself up from. I’ve been in seasons like that, it’s hard to keep going and keep striving for it.”

Neither team shot the ball well from the free throw line as both missed 12, which could have cost either team down the stretch.

“That win was big-time, just having faith in each other and staying connected,” Knowing we took their best shot and we’re only down 10 going into the fourth.” First year Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “It was an emotional game, a ton of highs and lows. But for us, our mentality is we’re going to continue to fight. We’re not going to fade out.”  Coach Green has been without former No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson all season because of a foot injury.

Photo By: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

After a tough injury riddle season, the Los Angeles Clippers finished the season with a winning record (42-40) and were in a position to make the playoffs for the fourth straight season. This team fought all season regardless of who suited up on any given night. 

They were with their best player and two-time champion Kahwi Leonard all season due to a partial torn ACL in his right knee that he suffered in the second round of the playoffs last year against the Utah Jazz, and ultimately required surgery. Then, another hit to this team came just a few hours before tip-off as the team was made aware that they would be without they’re second best player in Paul George who had to sit out due to health and safety protocols. George, played in just 31 of 82 games due to a torn UCL (torn ulnar collateral ligament) in his right elbow. 

So without their top two players in a win or go home situation, the Clippers weren’t able to hold off New Orleans despite being up 13 early in the 4th quarter. New Orleans outscored Los Angeles 31-17 in the 4th.

Head coach Ty Lue leaned on the two veterans he has depended on all season in Marcus Morris Sr. and Reggie Jackson who both scored 27 points. “This one is tough, a tough loss to take,” Jackson said. 

Norman Powell and Robert Covington, who came over from the Portland TrailBlazers in a trade before the deadline, combined for 31 points. The Clippers shot just 9-36 from 3-pt and part of that might have to do with them being without their best shooter Luke Kennard, who led the league in 3-pt percentage at 44.9%. 

“I am disappointed in us not being able to make the playoffs, no matter who was playing,” said coach Tyronn Lue, who is missing the postseason for the first time as a head coach. “It’s been an unbelievable season for our guys and everything we had to go through.”

The New Orleans Pelicans will travel to Phoenix for Game 1 on Sunday night. 

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