NEW ORLEANS — Brandon Ingram‘s strained hamstring healed in time for him to return from a 10-game absence against the team that drafted him – and in a matchup holding postseason implications for both clubs.
The New Orleans Pelicans’ leading scorer not only played well, but helped spearhead a dramatic comeback against the Los Angeles Lakers, who can’t seem to catch a break lately.
Ingram scored 26 in his return from a 10-game absence, and the Pelicans rallied from 23 points down late in the second quarter to defeat the Lakers 116-108 on Sunday night.
“I’ve been out for three weeks, and to be back and win in this fashion with all my brothers, it’s special,” Ingram said. “It shows we believe in each other. … When winning is the mentality good things come to you and great things came to us tonight.”
LeBron James hit seven 3-pointers and finished with 39 points, but hit just two of eight shots in the fourth quarter for four points, missing three times from deep after hitting seven of his first 10 from 3-point distance.
He scored most of his points after twisting his left ankle in the first quarter when he landed on Pelicans center Jaxson Hayes‘ foot. Still, James was playing in pain.
“I have no idea how I finished the game,” James said. “It’s pretty sore right now.
“I didn’t want to come out,” James added. “I understood how big of a game it was for us. … I just lost all explosiveness, so a lot of my game tonight was played on the perimeter after that. … I couldn’t really get into the lane like I would have loved to.”
The victory lifted the Pelicans (32-43) a half-game ahead of the Lakers (31-43) for the ninth seed – and the first of two play-in spots – in the Western Conference.
New Orleans got an enormous boost from rookies Trey Murphy III and Herb Jones. Murphy, drafted 17th overall, scored all of his 21 points in the second half. Jones, a second-round draft choice, had 16 points and a career-high six steals.
“It shows they’re getting better,” Ingram said, applauding the consistent work ethic both young players have exhibited since they arrived. “It’s showing up on the box score. It’s showing up in wins. It’s definitely helping their confidence out a lot.”
Jonas Valanciunas had 19 points and 12 rebounds, including a clutch jump-hook with a minute left for the Pelicans. And CJ McCollum finished off his 18-point performance with a floater to make it 115-108 with a half-minute to go.
Malik Monk scored 23 points, repeatedly finding ways to convert contested shots near the rim, but missed a 3 in the final minute. Russell Westbrook scored 18 points and Dwight Howard grabbed 10 rebounds for the Lakers.
“We can score when we want if we continue to play the right way, which I didn’t think we did in the second half,” Westbrook said. He did not elaborate.
Trailing by 20 at halftime, the Pelicans stormed back into the game by outscoring the Lakers 41-25 in the third quarter, when Murphy scored 16 of his points. Murphy hit three 3s during the surge and also threw down a put-back dunk with two hands.
Murphy’s right wing 3 and driving finger roll as he was fouled in succession cut the Lakers’ lead to 90-88, and Los Angeles carried just a four-point lead into the fourth.
Blowing a lead like that in such a game “feels like (expletive),” James said. “Excuse my language but that’s what it feels like. I came in with the mindset and understanding it was going to be a playoff-type atmosphere, playoff implications and things of that nature. I knew that from the jump. … It feels like another wasted opportunity obviously for myself and for our team.”
James scored a quick 10 points, including two 3s, in the first three minutes and the Lakers led 12-0 before McCollum hit a short jumper with nearly four minutes into the game.
James’ sixth 3 – from 27 feet – gave him 23 points with about four minutes left in the second quarter and gave the Lakers a 60-40 lead.
The Lakers led by as many as 23 when Westbrook’s layup made it 65-42 before New Orleans closed the gap to 69-49 at halftime.
James now has 30 30-point games this season.