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Pelicans attack the rim, start hot then hold on late to beat Spurs, advance

On Nov. 16 of last year, the Pelicans fell to 3-16 to start the season, looking disorganized on both ends while speculation about the future of GM David Griffin was rampant.

On April 13, 2022, the Pelicans moved within one win of the playoffs.

One of the great in-season turnarounds in NBA history kept on rolling Wednesday night CJ McCollum started hot, scoring 27 points in the first half (finishing with 32), while Brandon Ingram added 27 himself on the night and the Pelicans held off a fourth quarter run by the Spurs to earn 113-103 win in the 9/10 play-in game in the West.

Stars’ value goes up in the playoffs — or play-in games — and the Pelicans’ had more star power, and those stars stepped up. McCollum and New Orleans were savoring the season turnaround and this win — and he was not about to let Ingram just sit quietly and do his postgame interview.

The Pelicans advance and now will fly to Los Angeles to take on the Clippers Friday night in a winner-take-all game for the No. 8 seed.

The loss ends the Spurs’ season. That instantly brought up questions about Gregg Popovich’s future, but the coach refused to discuss it, calling a question on the topic “inappropriate.”

New Orleans won this game because they got rolling downhill and attacked — they took 43 shots in the paint compared to just 20 from 3. McCollum and Ingram drove the rim hard, and Jonas Valanciunas was a force in the paint finishing with 22 points and 14 rebounds. The key was the Pelicans made their shots inside, shooting 65.1% in the paint for the game (and getting Dejounte Murray and other Spurs in foul trouble).

San Antonio got inside and attempted more shots in the paint — 46 — but hit just 41.3% of them. Murray was part of the problem, shooting 5-of-19 overall on the night.

Part of Murray’s shooting woes was a fantastic defensive game from Herb Jones — the rookie drew the Murray assignment and did well. New Orleans was also more physical inside all game long.

New Orleans seemed in control, leading by 21 early in the fourth, but a cold streak that saw them not score a bucket for more than five minutes led to a 16-1 Spurs run that made it a game again.

But when they had to in the clutch, the Pelicans got some stops and Ingram got some buckets.

One more win, and this might be the greatest in-season turnaround in NBA history.