LOS ANGELES (AP)A franchise player out for the season. A first-year head coach. A 1-12 start. The New Orleans Pelicans overcame it all and stormed back to make the playoffs.
Brandon Ingram scored 30 points and the Pelicans rallied from a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat the depleted Los Angeles Clippers 105-101 in a play-in Friday night and earn the West’s No. 8 seed.
”That win was big-time,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said.
New Orleans blew a 16-point lead in the first half and didn’t grab the lead for good until the game’s final 4 1/2 minutes.
”It was an emotional game, a ton of highs and lows,” Green said. ”But for us, our mentality is we’re going to continue to fight. We’re not going to fade out.”
The Pelicans made the playoffs for the first time since 2017-18, guided by Green, a former Clipper. They’ve been without Zion Williamson all season because of a foot injury.
”Starting off 1-12 and 3-16, you’re thinking when is it going to pick up?” rookie Trey Murphy said. ”Being my first year, I don’t know what winning is like. Look at us now.”
CJ McCollum added 19 points and Larry Nance Jr. had 14 points and 16 rebounds for New Orleans, which will play No. 1 seed Phoenix in the first round. Game 1 is Sunday in the desert.
”This team is resilient,” said Nance, who was traded, along with McCollum, from Portland in February and recently returned from knee surgery. ”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.”
The Clippers were dealt a huge blow earlier in the day when Paul George entered the league’s health and safety protocols. They’d already been without Kawhi Leonard all season while he rehabbed an ACL injury. He watched from the bench early in the game.
Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson each had 27 points for the Clippers.
”I am disappointed in us not being able to make the playoffs, no matter who was playing,” said Clippers coach Tyronn Lue, who is missing the postseason for the first time as a head coach.
The Pelicans shot 57% in the first half and were better on the boards, in the paint and off the bench. They led by 16 in the second quarter before the Clippers cut their deficit to 56-46 at halftime.
The Clippers roared back in the third, outscoring the Pelicans 38-18. They opened with a 20-2 run that had the crowd on its feet. Jackson scored 10 points and Morris added six in the spurt.
Robert Covington started the third in place of 7-footer Ivica Zubac and his three-point play gave the Clippers a 75-62 lead, their largest of the game.
Ingram scored five of the Pelicans’ final 12 points to send them into the fourth trailing 84-74.
”Just having faith in each other and staying connected,” Green said of the Pelicans’ mindset. ”Knowing we took their best shot and we’re only down 10 going into the fourth.”
That’s when New Orleans staged a rally of its own.
After the Clippers scored to go up by 13 points, the Pelicans ran off 11 straight points and then McCollum hit a 3-pointer to tie it, 88-all.
Murphy hit his second 3-pointer of the quarter for another tie at 94-all.
That sparked a 10-0 run that gave the Pelicans a 101-94 lead, capped by Murphy’s 3-pointer that bounced on the rim and went in. He was one of three rookies who contributed.
”Murphy had huge stones to come in and make those big shots they needed when they were struggling to score the basketball,” Lue said.
The Clippers twice closed within two in the final 1:17, but they missed 2 of 4 free throws and Jackson and Morris missed shots down the stretch to see their season slip away.
”I thought our guys got a little tired,” Lue said. ”We didn’t continue to keep attacking.”
The Clippers, who made the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history last year, also were missing Luke Kennard. The league’s 3-point percentage leader didn’t play because of a sore right hamstring that kept him out of the loss at Minnesota on Tuesday in the team’s first play-in game.
Pelicans: They had won the season series, 3-1.
Clippers: Hadn’t missed the playoffs since 2017-18 season. … Nicolas Batum and Terance Mann started in place of George and Kennard … Lawrence Frank, president of basketball operations, said Leonard ”continues to progress with his rehab,” but there is no timetable for his return.
The Pelicans were 1-3 against the Suns this season.
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