One journey’s end is an ideal time for reflection. The New Orleans Pelicans’ journey ended at the hands of the Phoenix Suns. While the season’s end is disappointing, 2021-22 was a fun ride. I hope to chronicle the most memorable moments from the Pelicans’ year.
Let’s start with the most memorable game – the game that secured a long-overdue playoff berth.
Most Memorable Game: Pelicans’ Punch Playoff ticket Over Clippers.
While some have bemoaned the NBA’s recent Play-In Tournament, you cannot deny the drama and thrills it’s produced. The win-or-go-home reality for the conference’s 9th and 10th seeds has created high-level basketball.
The New Orleans Pelicans were the Western Conference’s No. 9 seed and defeated the No. 10 seed San Antonio Spurs. The 8th seeded Clippers’ loss to Minnesota formed the “winner take all” game in Cypto.com Arena. In this place, New Orleans has seen recent success.
Drama ensued before tip-off as the Clippers announced its star Paul George would not play due to health and safety protocols. The undermanned Clippers were familiar with this scenario as they played a chunk of the season without him. In the 52 games George had missed, the Clippers were 24-28 without him. Their other star Kawhi Leonard had not played a game this season.
Brandon Ingram started the game on fire. He showcased just about every weapon in his offensive arsenal, from the mid-range jumper to his length getting to the basket. Sixteen of Ingram’s 1st quarter-points helped the Pelicans’ to an eight-point lead.
They ballooned the lead to 16 during the second quarter before the Clippers cut it by 10 points before halftime.
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The 2021 Clippers were a resilient team, especially without their star players, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. This game was no exception as the Clippers came out of halftime and landed a haymaker on the Pelicans that completely swung momentum and the Clippers crowd in a frenzy.
Los Angeles outscored New Orleans 38-18 in the quarter and, at one span from the end of the 2nd to parts of the 3rd, gashed the Pelicans 34-6 in scoring. The Cryto.com Arena was rocking, and the Pelicans were reeling at this point. What happened next may have been the most memorable moment of the season.
Coach Willie Green shredded his stoic demeanor and implored his team to “keep fighting and pushing through.” His impassioned speech and the lineup adjustments to go small paid huge dividends in the success the Pelicans had in the 4th quarter. Ty Lue’s team began the half by going small.
They removed center Ivica Zubac from the lineup and replaced him with Robert Covington. The Clippers’ small lineup gave the Pelicans fits until finally, Coach Green adjusted by going small.
He inserted Larry Nance Jr and Trey Murphy III in, and both guys played the entire fourth quarter and produced. Both combined for 13 points, nine rebounds, and three assists in the quarter. The Pelicans returned the favor by going on a 27-7 run on their own, capped by a Murphy 3-point shot. He made four from beyond the arc on the night.
Once the clock struck zero, New Orleans celebrated its 105-101 victory with exuberance from the players and a rare yell from Coach Wilie Green. The victory marked the first playoff appearance for the Pelicans since 2018.
New Orleans also made a little history in becoming just the fourth team in NBA history to make the playoffs after starting the season 1-12 or worse. With a slow start and rookie head coach, without Zion Williamson the entire season, and a significant trade at the deadline, these Pelicans certainly made this a season to remember by making the playoffs.
This game is what solidified them getting there, and many fans may sit back and point to this game as one that ushered in a new era of Pelicans basketball.