PHOENIX (AP)Brandon Ingram’s rolling, Devin Booker’s hurting and the New Orleans Pelicans made it clear that this first-round playoff series will be a fight for the top-seeded Phoenix Suns.
Ingram had a fantastic all-around game with 37 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists to lead the Pelicans over the Suns 125-114 in Game 2 on Tuesday, pulling off the impressive road win to tie the series at 1-all and earn their first postseason victory since 2018.
As the final buzzer sounded, Pelicans forward Larry Nance Jr. set the ball down on the court and sprinted off the court into the tunnel with his teammates.
Game 3 is on Friday in New Orleans.
”Good win, let’s go,” Nance said. ”Let’s go home.”
Not only did the Suns lose the game, but they’re unsure about the health status of Booker, the All-Star guard who was spectacular in the first half with 31 points before leaving with right hamstring tightness in the third quarter.
The Suns – who led the NBA with a franchise-record 64 wins during the regular season – trailed 77-74 when he departed.
There wasn’t much of an update on Booker’s health or if the injury might keep him out beyond Tuesday. Suns guard Chris Paul said the injury was no excuse for the loss.
”We’ve got guys that are more than capable of stepping up,” Paul said. ”Book was killing. He was having a big-time game, but it is what it is.”
Phoenix kept the game close without its leading scorer and even took a lead early in the fourth, but the Pelicans rallied, getting big 3s from Jose Alvarado, CJ McCollum and Ingram to take an advantage they wouldn’t relinquish.
”Everything was flowing,” Ingram said. ”Everybody was effective on the floor, all five. All five made something happen, whether it was offensively or defensively. We were really connected today.”
McCollum finished with 23 points. Ingram added tough back-to-back jumpers in the closing minutes to keep a final Suns rally at bay.
”This is one of his best and it was on a big stage,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. ”I’m proud of that young man. He works his tail off, he’s a great teammate, high character, high IQ and he put it on display tonight.”
Ingram finished 13 of 21 shooting from the field. The Pelicans shot 17 of 30 (57%) from 3-point range.
The Suns certainly missed Booker in the final quarter, but spotty transition defense throughout the evening was a bigger culprit in the loss.
”That was probably, for us, the worst we have ever looked in transition since I have been here,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. ”For that to happen in a playoff game was a bit unsettling for everybody.
The Pelicans admitted they were a little surprised by the intensity of their Game 1 loss, especially during the first half when they fell into a 19-point halftime hole. They didn’t make the same mistake on Tuesday, taking a 30-28 lead after one quarter.
The Suns rallied for a 61-56 halftime advantage thanks to Booker scoring spree. He scored all of his 31 in the first half on 12 of 18 shooting, including 7 of 10 from 3-point range. He hit a 30-footer just before the halftime buzzer after the Pelicans inexplicably left him open.
Booker left the game and went to the locker room late in the third quarter. On the possession before he departed, he jumped to contest a fastbreak shot by New Orleans, but it wasn’t immediately clear that he was hurt.
He returned at the beginning of the fourth quarter wearing warmups and never re-entered the game. Booker missed multiple games earlier in the season with a hamstring injury.
One of the more entertaining exchanges of the game came in the third quarter when the Suns’ Mikal Bridges and Pelicans’ Jaxson Hayes swapped spectacular blocks on back-to-back possessions.
Bridges struck first, swatting Hayes’ turn-around jumper to start a Suns fastbreak. Bridges looked like he might finish with a dunk a few seconds later but Hayes recovered for his own block, trapping the ball with two hands against the backboard.
Booker scored 16 points in the first quarter on 6 of 10 shooting and his final bucket was a heartwarmer.
The guard hit a tough corner jumper just before the buzzer and fell to the floor next to the crowd. Booker looked up and there was a baby in the lap of a man right next to him, so he gave the baby a fist bump before running back to the huddle.
Pelicans: McCollum nearly had a triple-double, adding nine assists and eight rebounds.
Suns: Paul finished with 17 points and 14 assists but shot just 5 of 16 from the field.
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports