Wednesday, February 28

CJ McCollum goes off in 1st half as Pelicans hold off Spurs in NBA play-in game | CBC Sports


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

McCollum scored 27 of his 32 points in the first half to carry the young Pelicans to a 113-103 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night. New Orleans will face the LA Clippers on Friday night for the eighth playoff seed.

“He was great,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said of McCollum. “He set the tone early. He understood the moment, and it sort of calmed the rest of the guys down. We just got the ball to him and he made play after play, score after score, and then the rest of the guys that just started to feed off CJ.”

McCollum wasn’t alone. Ingram shook foul trouble to add 27 points and centre Jonas Valanciunas added 22 points and 14 rebounds as the Pelicans’ stars delivered under pressure of New Orleans’ first postseason game since 2018.

“The three best players for New Orleans all played great, and if that happens, you’re going to lose,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of his team’s inability to contain McCollum, Ingram and Valanciunas. “We stayed in it and got back in it, but then we made the same mistakes as we did in the first three quarters – non physical defence.”

“We’re just playing for each other,” Valanciunas said of combining for 81 points with McCollum and Ingram. “When things struggle, we need somebody to slow the game down, which [CJ] does. Next step is on Friday.”

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

“It’s the playoffs, and you’ve got to be into people,” Popovich said. “The grunt is important. Ingram scored two in a row right in the middle of the lane with no one even touching him. It’s a great lesson for our guys.”

The Pelicans, who finished ninth in the West after starting the season 3-16, will play at the Clippers with the winner facing the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in the first round. New Orleans beat Los Angeles in three of four meetings this season.

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WATCH l North Courts: Sizing up Raptors-76ers in NBA’s opening playoff round:

Sizing up Raptors-76ers in NBA’s opening playoff round

Hosts of CBC Sports’ North Courts Vivek Jacob and Jevohn Shepherd break down every positional matchup in their projected starting 5’s for the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers, heading into their first round playoff matchup. 9:48

The Pelicans seemed headed to a rout, 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. The Pelicans missed seven consecutive shots during the run.

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. Dejounte Murray had 16 points, but he went just 5 of 19 from the floor while being shadowed by Pelicans rookie defensive stopper Herb Jones.

“You have to take the good and bad and learn from it,” Murray said. “We had guys not shoot well, starting with myself. They were physical. I ain’t making no excuses.”

After Ingram went to the bench with three fouls 5:17 before halftime, McCollum carried the Pelicans offensively. In a 14-4 run over the final 3:36 of the half, McCollum made two 3-pointers and pierced the San Antonio defence for two finger-roll layups on strong drives into the lane as New Orleans built a 61-50 lead.

McCollum made 10 of his first 12 shots, including 2 of 3 from long range, despite drawing consistent double teams.]

Hawks rout Hornets

For one night, at least, the Atlanta Hawks looked like the team that made a stunning run to the Eastern Conference final last summer.

Trae Young bounced back from a sluggish start to score 24 points and De’Andre Hunter led a third-quarter surge Wednesday that carried the Hawks to a 132-103 rout of the Charlotte Hornets in a play-in game.

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“We’re definitely confident right now,” Hunter said. “But we’ve got a lot more work to do. We’re not satisfied yet.”

The Hawks were a bit of a disappointment during the regular season, finishing ninth in the East after their surprising playoff success in 2021.

They’ve still got to win one more play-in game just to make the playoffs, heading to Cleveland to face the Cavaliers on Friday night. The winner claims the No. 8 seed in the East and will face the top-seeded Miami Heat in the opening round of the playoffs.

The season is over for the Hornets, who were overwhelmed in the 9-10 play-in game for the second year in a row and haven’t made the playoffs since 2016.

Still, coach James Borrego called it another step forward for a rebuilding team.

“A lot of good things have happened for this franchise based on where we’re at today compared to where we were two or three years ago,” he said.

Trae Young scored 24 points and added 11 assists to lead the No. 9 Hawks past visiting No. 10 Hornets 132-103 on Saturday in NBA play-in tournament action. (Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

Miles Bridges was ejected in the fourth quarter and could be facing additional punishment from the league office after he appeared to strike a young fan with his mouthpiece.

All five Atlanta starters scored in double figures, as did Bogdan Bogdanovic off the bench. It was Hunter who came up big in the decisive third period, bursting out with 16 points after being held to 3 in the first half.

“I think I’m a big part of this team,” Hunter said. “Me being aggressive, scoring and defending, helps this team a lot.”

Hunter finished with 22 points, while Danilo Gallinari added 18 and Clint Capela 15. Kevin Huerter and Bogdanovic chipped in with 13 apiece.

The Hornets closed the regular season strong and felt like they had a good chance to win a couple of play-in games on the road. But those hopes came crashing down against their I-85 rival.

LaMelo Ball led Charlotte with 26 points on 7-of-25 shooting.

The Hawks led by 13 in the first half before settling for a 60-52 advantage at the break. Charlotte had a bit of momentum in the closing minutes of the half, but it sure didn’t carry over to the third.

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The Hawks outscored the Hornets 42-24 during that 12-minute barrage, hitting 16 of 24 shots, and led 102-76 heading to the final period.

With the Hornets doubling at every opportunity, Young made only 1 of 9 shots in the opening quarter and 3 of 13 in the first half.

But his teammates found plenty of open looks and made the Hornets pay dearly.

“It’s great for my team,”‘ said Young, who had 11 assists. “If you can make two guys guard you, it only opens up the floor for everybody else. I have to embrace it.”

Charlotte should’ve known what kind of night it would be on their way to State Farm Arena.

The Hornets’ chartered bus was blocked by a freight train that stopped on a crossing near the downtown sports complex. The bus had to turn around and take a different route to the arena, delaying Charlotte’s arrival for pregame warm-ups.

It didn’t get much better once the game tipped off.

Bridges hits fan with mouthpiece

The Hornets’ frustration boiled over with about 6 1/2 minutes to go when Bridges complained so vehemently about a goaltending call that he picked up two quick technical fouls and was ejected.

Then, with a Hawks fan yapping at him on the way to the locker room, the Hornets player wildly threw his mouthpiece and appeared to strike a female who was simply watching the scene.

Bridges went on Twitter shortly after the game looking to make amends.

“Somebody get me in contact with the young lady,” he said. “That’s unacceptable.”

Bridges said he’ll accept whatever punishment he gets from the league.

“I was upset about a call, a couple of calls really,” he said. “I let my temper get the best of me. It was definitely the wrong thing to do.”



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