In a play-in game, CJ McCollum leads New Orleans Pelicans ahead of the San Antonio Spurs

In a play-in game, CJ McCollum leads New Orleans Pelicans ahead of the San Antonio Spurs ...

NEW ORLEANS (AP) CJ McCollum got New Orleans going early and Brandon Ingram took over late to send the Pelicans to Los Angeles for a chance at a final playoff spot.

McCollum sent the young Pelicans to a 113-103 victory against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night. New Orleans will face the LA Clippers on Friday night for the eighth playoff spot.

He was incredible, coach Willie Green said of McCollum. He understood the moment, and it sort of calmed the rest of the players down. We just got the ball to him and he made play after play, score after score, and then the rest of the players that just started to feed off CJ.

McCollum was not alone. Ingram advanced to 27 points and center Jonas Valanciunas added 22 points and 14 assists as the Pelicans beat New Orleans for their first postseason game since 2018.

You're going to lose when the three best players for New Orleans all played great, said coach Gregg Popovich of his team's inability to keep McCollum, Ingram, and Valanciunas intact. We stayed in it, and then we made the same mistakes as we did in the first three quarters, compared to non physical defense.

Valanciunas said that while things fail, we need someone to slow the game down, which (CJ) does. On Friday, the following step is made.

Popovich said his young team, who averages 25 years in age, learned a lesson the difficult way.

"It's the playoffs, and you've got to be into people," Popovich said. "The grunt is vital. Ingram scored two in a row with no one even touching him. "We have a great lesson for them."

The Pelicans, who finished ninth in the West after starting the season 3-16, will play at the Clippers with the winner in the first round. New Orleans won three of four meetings this season.

The Pelicans seemed to be coming to a run, leading 96-75 with 10:39 left, but the 10th-seeded Spurs used a 16-1 run over the next 5:25 to cut it to 97-91.

Ingram hit a pair of soft jumpers in the lane, and Valanciunas added a short jumper to put New Orleans back on top, 103-91.

Devin Vassell led San Antonio with 23 points, including Dejounte Murray, who had 16 points, but he went just 5 of 19 from the ground while being shadowed by Pelicans' defensive stopper Herb Jones.

Murray said that you must take the good and bad and learn from it. We had guys not shoot well, starting with myself. They were physical. I was not making any excuses.

McCollum fouled the Pelicans in a 14-4 run over the final 3:36 of the half, making two 3-pointers and pierced the defense for two finger-roll layups on strong drives into the lane. New Orleans maintained a 61-50 lead after going to the bench with three fouls 5:17 before halftime.

Despite achieving good double teams, McCollum took ten of his first 12 shots, including two of the three from the wide range.


Spurs: After eight years as a San Antonio assistant, Becky Hammon became the new head coach of the WNBA's Las Vegas Aces. Coach Gregg Popovich said he would miss Hammon's contributions. "I just wish her well, and I just wish she was there." G Dejounte Murray had two of his 13 triple-doubles against the Pelicans in the regular season.

F Zion Williamson, a former No. 1 overall pick, was doing 360-degree dunks in pregame before falling back into his street clothes. Pelicans: Coach Willie Green said he was not looking for Williamson to return until the start of next season.

The Associated Press, Peter Finney Jr.

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