NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Jose Alvarado brought fans to their feet repeatedly, and they gleefully sang his name.
Alvarado highlighted a career-high 38-point performance with a career-best eight 3-pointers, and the Pelicans won their fourth straight game by beating the Denver Nuggets 121-106 on Sunday.
“I’m happy he had a big night,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “It’s fun. This is why you watch the game. This is why guys go out and compete and work hard, to have moments like this.”
Alvarado, a 6-foot guard whose production has far exceeded expectations since he went undrafted out of Georgia Tech in 2021, came off the bench with the Pelicans trailing by 14 in the first quarter and immediately scored eight points during an 11-1 run.
“Jose, in that moment, he felt his number was called and he he had to make a play – do something. He did that and more,” said Pelicans star forward Zion Williamson, who added 25 points in his typically forceful way around the basket. “The shots he made were huge.”
It wasn’t long before fans began serenading Alvarado with a soccer-crowd-style chant replacing “Ole,” with “Jose.”
“Jose was the guy tonight,” Nuggets forward Bruce Brown said. “He killed us.”
Denver coach Mike Malone said his team “never adjusted” when it became apparent Alvarado was going to be a premier scorer in the game.
“Give him credit,” Malone said, “but we did a poor job, obviously, of guarding him.”
Alvarado hit 12 of 19 shots and missed just three of his 11 3-point attempts. He also scored on explosive driving floaters over significantly taller defenders in the lane.
“I’m not a big scorer,” said Alvarado, whose game-high in college was 29 points.
He couldn’t recall scoring as many as 38 at any level, adding with a smile, “This is the one I’m going to remember.”
When he checked out of the game, the crowd rose to its feet and cheered wildly. Teammates hugged Alvarado as he came to the bench, and some playfully poured water over his head after the game ended.
“This team is special,” Alvarado said. “It’s more than just teammates to us. We’re all brothers and we all want to see each other win. When someone’s hot, they’re going to give you the ball and that’s what they did.”
Because Alvarado lacks the “physical attributes a prototypical NBA player would have,” Williamson said, the reserve guard represents the type of “underdog story” people love.
“He’s making an impact. He’s the X-factor for us,” Williamson said. “So, when people see that, and he’s telling them to stand up and get hyped, it’s infectious energy. You can’t help but want to be a part of that.”
Jonas Valanciunas added 13 points for New Orleans despite being limited to less than 14 minutes by foul trouble. Willy Hernangomez, who played nearly 20 minutes in place of Valanciunas, responded with 12 points and eight rebounds.
Trey Murphy scored 12 points, including a pair of driving dunks and a 3-pointer from 27 feet away. That helped the Pelicans, who were without Brandon Ingram for a fourth straight game, win for the ninth time in 11 games.
Nikola Jokic had 32 points and 16 rebounds for the Nuggets, who’ve lost two straight on the heels of four straight victories. Aaron Gordon scored 19 points and Jamal Murray 18 for Denver.
But Denver committed 19 turnovers, which led to 18 Pelicans points.
“When you play better teams on the road, you can’t beat yourself,” Malone said. “Unfortunately, tonight was another example of us doing that.”
Jokic had 13 points in the first nine minutes. His end-to-end layup as he was fouled and two free throws shortly after gave Denver an early 30-16 lead.
But about the time Jokic checked out, Alvarado checked in and hit two 3s and a driving layup to help the Pelicans close it to 31-27 by the end of the opening quarter.
Jokic had 21 points and Alvarado 19 by halftime, when Denver led 60-59.