NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Pelicans, playing without starters Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Herb Jones, could have easily had a let-down game against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night.
Instead, the Pelicans (3-1) punched first and held on late for a 113-111 win that included surviving a Luka Doncic game-winning three-point attempt at the buzzer.
« A lot of prayers on that last one because my angle, it looked good, » Pelicans coach Willie Green said. « Thank God he didn’t make it. »
Without two of their top offensive players in Williamson and Ingram and their top defensive-stopper in Jones, the Pelicans had to tweak some of their game plan against Dallas.
The Pelicans did their best to try and wear down Doncic with the hope that some of his three-point attempts and fourth-quarter shots weren’t going to go in. Doncic shot 16-of-30 overall, but was 2-of-13 on 3s and 2-of-6 overall in the fourth quarter while missing all four of his fourth-quarter three-point attempts.
« He’s a great player and you can look at his numbers night in and night out, » Green said. « This is what he does. »
Green used Naji Marshall and rookie Dyson Daniels in place of Jones for most of the night in guarding Doncic, while using a team approach to make things difficult for him late.
Daniels, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2022 NBA draft, had played just three minutes in the Pelicans’ opener and picked up DNPs in the last two games. But with so many injuries, he was called upon for major minutes and his first major assignment was guarding Doncic.
« It’s impressive. Him and Herb, they sort of have the same demeanor, » Green said. « They are tough. They are quiet. But he has some inner strength within him. His approach every day is the same. He gets his work in and he doesn’t back down. »
The Pelicans used a balanced scoring effort to pick up the win with eight players in double figures led by Trey Murphy III, who finished with 22 points on 8-of-8 shooting.
It wasn’t the best shooting night for CJ McCollum, who had 14 points on 6-of-20, but McCollum did have 11 assists. He has 23 assists in his past two games, the most over any two-game stretch he has had in his career.
« I have to be able to move players on the court like chess pieces, like checkers, » McCollum, 31, said. « That’s a sign of an elite player when the game matches the mind. I think I’m at that intersection at my career. I can shoot 6 of 20 but still be a +10 and still impact the game. »
The balanced effort showed off the Pelicans’ depth, something McCollum feels is going to come in handy throughout the season.
« The bench is how you win championships. That’s how you win playoff games. That’s how you win on the road, » McCollum said. « Guys who get paid a lot of money generally perform and generally expected to perform at a high level. It’s the role players who get that loose ball, who set that great screen, they roll. They might not score, they might hit the weakside . »
The Pelicans play again on Friday (10 pm ET, ESPN) night against the Phoenix Suns and prior to Tuesday’s game, Green said he was optimistic the team could have Williamson and Jones back on the upcoming three-game road trip. With Ingram in concussion protocol, his status is more up in the air.
« We have a good collective group of guys, » McCollum said. « … You need those intangibles to be displayed every night, especially in the playoffs. That’ll be the difference between hosting a home playoff game or going on the road. »