Pelicans battle to win at Nuggets behind Ingram, Williamson
Playing without Lonzo Ball, who was out with a right hip flexor strain, the New Orleans Pelicans ventured into Denver at mile high altitude.
With the game on the line, the Pelicans remembered what makes them tick, who the stars are and both stars rose above the altitude to lift the Pelicans above the possibility of losing all three games on the road trip.
Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram scored 14 straight points combined and 16 of the final 18 points scored by New Orleans in the final 3:52 as the Pelicans overcame the Nuggets 113-105 Sunday afternoon.
Williamson and Ingram each finished with 30 points and six rebounds. Ingram added eight assists.
While the stars were shining brightly and made the difference, the huge differential was at the free throw line.
The disparity between the two teams was stark.
New Orleans was 23-of-30 (75.9%), including 13-of-16 in the fourth quarter. Denver was just 8-of-10, a total of 20 fewer attempts. You can imagine what the post-game reaction and talking points emanating from the Nuggets consisted of.
A primary reason for the disparity was the aggressiveness of the Pelicans, particularly of Williamson and Ingram. Williamson was relentless, as always, in attacking the basket and made 11-of-14 free throws.
What was great to see was Ingram also attacking the basket and not settling for jump shots. Ingram was 6-for-6 from the line.
In his fourth start of the season, Nickeil Alexander-Walker was good, scoring 20 points, tying his second highest point total of the season. Alexander-Walker was 8-of-15 from the floor in 31 minutes.
Stan Van Gundy wisely made sure the ball was in the hands of Williamson and Ingram down the stretch and wisely had Josh Hart on the floor in crunch time, which should be the case more often.
Hart will work hard defensively, he will rebound and gives you some offensive punch as well. Hart finished with 12 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
New Orleans started slowly, trailing 30-22 after one quarter, largely due to committing an alarming nine turnovers in the period.
The Pelicans turned it up in the second quarter, playing superbly in blitzing the Nuggets 36-21 to take a 58-51 lead by halftime.
New Orleans maintained an 83-80 lead going to the final quarter.
The 20-year-old Williamson has now scored 20 or more points in 20 consecutive games and has shot 50 percent or better in each of those games, the third most in NBA history.
Williamson has the most consecutive 20 points or more games of any player in NBA history under the age of 21, tied with Luka Doncic and LeBron James in that category.
New Orleans won the battle of the boards 45-37. The Pelicans won despite Denver shooting 50 percent from the field. After the nine turnovers in the first quarter, New Orleans had just seven in the last three quarters combined.
Despite two losses at Portland, the Pelicans are playing better defense of late, fighting through screens, switching more prudently and effectively and contesting more shots. Can it continue?
The win came against a good team playing great basketball.
Denver had won three games in a row and eight of its last nine entering the contest.
The Pelicans return home for three games, beginning with the injury-plagued world champion Los Angeles Lakers, who are without both LeBron James and Anthony Davis. It is a big opportunity to steal a win from an elite team with a less than elite lineup. A rematch with the Nuggets and a contest with Dallas will follow.
Will Ball return? When will JJ Redick return?
If not, Alexander-Walker will get another chance to show he belongs in the rotation, if not the starting lineup, in short order while Kira Lewis will continue to get minutes and prove himself. Lewis distinguished himself well in Denver.
Now 18-24, the Pelicans are still in the mix to reach the postseason but sooner or later, it will take more than a three-game win streak, the high water mark of an inconsistent season.
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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…