NEW ORLEANS — Wherever CJ McCollum goes in New Orleans right now, he says he’s feeling the buzz in town about the Pelicans.
On Wednesday, in front of a sold-out crowd at the Smoothie King Center, it continued as the Pelicans came away with a 113-103 victory over the San Antonio Spurs to advance to the NBA play-in tournament.
“It’s the start of something special for sure,” McCollum said. “You see the energy. Feel the energy. My mom is in town, I have family in town. When we go out to eat, you can feel the city is excited about basketball, as it should be. .” [be]. There’s a lot of talent here. We play the game the right way. There will be many victories in our future.”
McCollum got off to a fast start against Spurs, scoring 27 points in the first half, including 19 in the second quarter when he was a perfect 7 of 7 from the field.
Pelicans coach Willie Green said McCollum was a stabilizing and calming force for the team throughout the night.
“We just got the ball to him, and he’s been playing game after game, score after score,” Green said. “The rest of the guys started feeding off of CJ. He’s been in those times. He’s been playing on the big stage. It’s no coincidence that he comes out and has the game he has.”
McCollum finished with a game-high 32 points.
“I understood the magnitude of this game,” McCollum said. “Spurs are always going to run at some point. They’re well trained. They run. They’ve got a lot of great players who can shoot and score. When you’re lucky enough to go into double digits, you’ve got to put the pedal to the bottom and try to be aggressive.”
McCollum also understood how and when to involve others.
Brandon Ingram has missed the previous three games and 13 of the last 18 with a right hamstring issue. So the Pelicans gave Ingram the ball early, and he had 11 of his 27 points in the first quarter.
Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas had five points at halftime, and New Orleans gave him the ball in the third quarter, when he went for 12 of his 22.
“I just keep talking to them when I need to. Understand what we’re trying to execute,” McCollum said when asked how he was a calming factor in the game. “We have to get the ball out and slow down the game. Give the ball to JV. Tell BI to go in the middle and not settle for 3. Be aggressive and attack the basket. We got the bonus early. And then choose my spots. I try to be more aggressive in the playoffs, I try to go down a little more.
The Pelicans play the LA Clippers on Friday night for a chance to qualify for the playoffs as the eighth seed and face the top-seeded Phoenix Suns.
If the Pelicans advance, they would become the fourth team in NBA history to make the playoffs after starting 1-12 or worse and the first since the Suns accomplished the feat in 1996-97.
“It’s fun. It’s exciting. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Smoothie King where there were so many people here,” Ingram said. “It shows how far we’ve come, starting 1-12. Having a chance to make the playoffs is a blessing. We just have to keep going, stay focused. But I loved the energy at the Smoothie King Center. “
Although this is McCollum’s first time experimenting with noise levels as a Pelican, he recalls the arena getting just as loud in the past – especially when the Pelicans swept his Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs. 2018 playoffs.
He hopes Wednesday night’s effort is indicative of what the team will be capable of moving forward.
“I’m happy about it. I’m excited,” McCollum said. “Obviously we have to try and take care of business in LA, but when we come back here I can’t wait to see more sales. And we’ll reward them with a high level of play, a high level of energy. We let’s leave everything out there in the field.”