The New Orleans Pelicans are peaking at the right time.
That's bad news for a Phoenix Suns team down its leading scorer.
Riding Brandon Ingram's hot hand, Herbert Jones' relentless defense and a 12-0 fourth-quarter run, the Pelicans ran away from the Suns for a 118-103 win on Sunday. Now a team that started the season 1-12 and needed two play-in wins to secure the West's final playoff spot is tied 2-2 with the NBA's best team in the first round of the playoffs.
And Devin Booker's not coming back any time soon.
The game was tight from the start, with Phoenix responding to a 25-22 first-quarter lead by New Orleans to take a 51-49 edge into halftime. But the second half was all Pelicans. New Orleans outscored Phoenix by 13 in the third quarter before turning the game into a blowout in the fourth quarter, sparked by a 12-0 run to extend its lead to 101-85 with 5:44 remaining. The Suns had no response.
Here comes Herb Jones
The postseason star turn for Jones — known in the regular season for his voracious defense to folks paying attention — ramped up another notch on Sunday. The second-round rookie repeatedly flustered and frustrated the normally streamlined Suns offense to the tune of two steals and three blocks. His swipe-and-score of an inbounds pass by Suns forward Jae Crowder in the fourth quarter bothered Chris Paul so much that he swiped Jones across the face, tacking on a flagrant foul to the already disastrous sequence for the Suns.
— NBA (@NBA) April 25, 2022
It was the highlight of the 12-0 Pelicans run. Not to be dismissed, though, was this block by Jones of a Cameron Payne 3-pointer, Jones' third swat of the night.
— NBA (@NBA) April 25, 2022
When the night was done, Jones had added 13 points, three assists and two rebounds to his defensive tally. Paul, meanwhile, finished with four points, 11 assists and three turnovers while shooting 2 of 8 from the field, flustered in equal parts by Jones and undrafted rookie Jose Alvarado, who's made good on a recently signed four-year, $6.5 million contract after previously playing in New Orleans on a two-way deal.
Alvarado forced a pair of backcourt turnovers by Paul, including this late pocket-pick that led to an uncontested layup for Jones.
— theScore (@theScore) April 25, 2022
Ingram, meanwhile, powered the Pelicans offense, tallying 30 points on 11-of-23 shooting to go with five assists and four rebounds. The effort marked his third straight playoff game with at least 30 points, the first time a Pelicans players has done so in franchise history.
Jonas Valanciunas, meanwhile, controlled the paint, tallying 26 points and 15 rebounds on 9-of-15 shooting, outdueling his Suns counterpart Deandre Ayton, who finished with 23 points and eight rebounds.
Meanwhile, Booker, who sustained a hamstring injury in Game 2, was relegated to watching from the sideline. He and his 26.8 points per game could do nothing about the game's outcome in street clothes. And now the unthinkable has moved into the realm of not-so far-fetched. A Suns team that secured the Western Conference's No. 1 seed by an eight-game margin with a 64-18 record appears vulnerable to a Pelicans team that finished the regular season 10 games under .500 (36-46).
Game 5 shifts back to Phoenix on Tuesday, where pressure will be uncommonly high on the home team.