CJ plays DJ, produces winning tune as Pelicans get key win over Mavs
If I would have told you that Brandon Ingram left the game late in the second quarter Wednesday night with a right ankle sprain and would not return and that Jonas Valanciunas picked up two early fouls, played just seven minutes and was not a factor, you likely would have concluded that the New Orleans Pelicans lost to Dallas, particularly already without Zion Williamson, Larry Nance Jr. and Jose Alvarado.
Just when it looked like a huge New Orleans lead might disappear, CJ McCollum decided that enough was enough.
McCollum scored 16 straight points in the fourth quarter, making all four 3-point attempts and the Pelicans held off the Mavericks 113-106 at Smoothie King Center. McCollum did so with Ingram watching the second half in street clothes.
McCollum finished with 32 points, including 6 of 8 from 3-point range. McCollum added five rebounds and five assists.
With depleted offensive options, McCollum played the role of the orchestrator, the leader, the disk jockey, playing a winning tune when the prospect of a crushing loss was a real possibility.
The game was tied 24-24 after one quarter before the Pelicans exploded in the second quarter, outscoring Dallas 35-19 to take a 59-43 halftime lead. The lead grew to 83-65 heading to the fourth quarter.
The Mavericks made nine 3-pointers in the fourth quarter in a stirring comeback, pulling within three points at 97-94 but McCollum was not going to let the Pelicans lose.
The Pelicans shot it well all night, making 51 percent from the field, 48 percent from 3-point range and 89 percent from the free throw line. Trey Murphy had 16 points, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range. Jaxson Hayes was good off the bench with 14 points. New Orleans shared the ball well with 32 assists on 42 made shots. It was the most assists since late November for the Pelicans, a team that has relied too much on dribbling, one-on-one situations and post-ups over the struggles of the last couple of months.
Luka Doncic left the game late in the third quarter with a left thigh strain and did not return. Doncic was held to 4 of 14 shooting with 15 points in 28 minutes. Herb Jones did an excellent job guarding him.
It is safe to say that the Pelicans are a much, much better team at home than on the road. New Orleans is 21-11 at home, 11-23 on the road.
Fortunately, there are three more home games to follow.
The Pelicans (32-34) will continue the homestand Saturday night, hosting Oklahoma City. The Pelicans and Thunder entered play tied in the Western Conference standings. The win pulled the Pelicans within a game and a half of Dallas (34-33) in the conference race. New Orleans is tied for ninth with the Lakers.
The Thunder are a half game behind the Pelicans so it is another key game.
In a league of stars, with its two stars out, the Pelicans won because their third star played the role of top dog and barked loudly.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…