The Phoenix Suns and the New Orleans Pelicans are doing their best to replicate a playoff series in December.
Emotions were intense at the end of the host Pelicans’ 128-117 victory over the Suns on Friday night. The teams meet again in what figures to be another heated game Sunday afternoon in New Orleans.
“If we weren’t motivated,” Suns forward Torrey Craig said, “I think we definitely are now.”
Some Phoenix players took offense when Pelicans forward Zion Williamson scored the final two of his season-high 35 points on a breakaway windmill dunk with just 1.9 seconds left on the clock Friday night.
“The game was over,” Suns guard Cameron Payne said. “There wasn’t any shot clock. They can hold the ball.”
When the game ended, some Phoenix players walked toward the New Orleans bench and heated words were exchanged, but things didn’t escalate.
Williamson, who was sidelined by a foot injury for all of last season, including a hotly contested first-round playoff series in which the Suns beat the Pelicans in six games, admitted that he “got carried away a little” bit with the flamboyant, unnecessary basket. He made 13 of 17 field-goal attempts and nine of 12 free throws.
Pelicans reserve guard Jose Alvarado sparked slow-starting New Orleans by scoring 16 of his 20 points in the first half. He resumed his intense competition with Suns guard Chris Paul that began in the playoff series.
Alvarado’s availability was a game-time decision because of a rib contusion he sustained two nights earlier in a win against Detroit.
“If that person plays,” Alvarado said in reference to Paul, “I’m playing.”
Paul, who scored 33 points on an NBA-record 14-for-14 shooting from the floor in the playoff series clincher, had 24 points on Friday, making 6 of 9 3-pointers.
Phoenix stayed in the game by making 22 of 44 3-pointers while the Pelicans made 8 of 27. Friday’s victory was the first by a Pelicans team against an opponent that made as many as 22 3-pointers.
New Orleans focused on the interior, where Larry Nance Jr. had 17 points and Jonas Valanciunas had 12 points and 10 rebounds to supplement Williamson. The Pelicans scored a season-high 72 points in the paint compared to the Suns’ 38. They made 28 of 35 free throws and the Suns made nine of 13.
Phoenix All-Star guard Devin Booker made just 5 of 17 shots and finished with 14 points. He sat out the last 1:50.
“I didn’t like the way he was running,” coach Monty Williams said. “Sometimes I’ve got to protect him. We’ll find out what’s going on.”
When asked if he was injured, Booker said, “Yeah, there’s something going on. We’ll figure out it out.”
The Pelicans have surged to the top of the Western Conference by winning their last six games and 10 of their last 12 even though second-leading scorer Brandon Ingram (toe) has missed the last six games and fellow starter Herbert Jones Jr. (ankle) has missed the last four. Their availability for Sunday is uncertain.
Phoenix has lost three straight and four of five to drop into third place in the West, a game behind Memphis.
–Field Level Media