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CJ McCollum leads Pelicans past Spurs

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – 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 early yesterday.

“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.”

Playing in his 57th playoff game, McCollum displayed a calming presence to his younger teammates. Rookies Herb Jones, José Alvarado and Trey Murphy played large chunks of the fourth quarter.

The New Orleans Pelicans’ CJ McCollum of shoots over the San Antonio Spurs’ Zach Collins. PHOTO: AFP

“I was just trying to be locked in and aggressive early,” McCollum said. “The playoffs is a lot of antics, a lot of momentum plays, a lot of back and forth. You’ve got to be stable and mentally locked in to withstand a certain level of (chaos).”

McCollum wasn’t alone. Ingram added 27 points and centre Jonas Valanciunas added 22 points and 14 rebounds as the Pelicans’ stars delivered in New Orleans’ first post-season game since 2018.

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 five of 19 from the floor while being shadowed by Pelicans rookie defensive stopper Herb Jones.

McCollum made 10 of his first 12 shots, including two of three from long range, despite drawing consistent double teams.