WASHINGTON: Brandon Ingram scored 37 points and the New Orleans Pelicans stunned top seed Phoenix 125-114 in the NBA playoffs on Tuesday, with the Suns worrying about a hamstring injury to star Devin Booker. Ingram added 11 rebounds and nine assists while C.J. McCollum had 23 points, nine assists and eight rebounds as the Pelicans pulled level at 1-1 in the best-of-seven first-round series, which moves to New Orleans for game three on Friday.
“We’ll just continue to have fun, be loose, lock into the game,” Ingram said. “It’s going to be a good time.” Herbert Jones had 14 points and Jonas Valanciunas pulled down 13 rebounds to go with 10 points for New Orleans. “We came out aggressive,” Ingram said. “When they came at us, we stayed resilient. We got the best shot on the floor every time down.”
In a game that featured 20 lead changes, the Pelicans outscored the Suns 28-16 over the last 7:30, hitting five three-pointers in a row in the run. Ingram scored 14 points in the third quarter and 12 in the fourth. “My teammates helped me out a lot, giving me the ball in the right spots,” Ingram said. “We did a good job on the defensive end. We’ll continue to get better.”
Booker scored 31 of Phoenix’s 61 first-half points as the Suns led by five at halftime, his seven first-half three-pointers a career playoff high for any full game. But Booker tweaked his left hamstring and was removed in the third quarter. His future remains uncertain for the rest of the series pending an MRI exam. “It is a hamstring issue,” Suns coach Monty Williams said.
Booker, a 25-year-old All-Star guard who helped the United States win Olympic gold last year, averaged a career-high 26.8 points a game this season for the Suns. The Suns went 5-2 when Booker was sidelined with a right hamstring issue earlier in the season. New Orleans won two play-in games to reach the playoffs after a 36-46 season, but humbled the Suns, who won an NBA-best 64 games this season.
“That was probably the worst we’ve ever looked in transition (defense) since I’ve been here and for that to happen in a playoff game was a bit unsettling for everybody,” Williams said. “This team is going to play us hard every possession. We miss a shot and they are going to take advantage. They showed that in the third quarter and then they got hot from three(-point range).” Mikal Bridges added 19 points for the Suns and Chris Paul had 17 points and 14 assists.
Western Conference second seed Memphis ripped Minnesota 124-96 to level their series 1-1 and Eastern Conference top seed Miami beat Atlanta 115-105 for a 2-0 series edge. Jimmy Butler scored a career playoff high 45 points for host Miami. The Hawks had pulled within 104-101 in the final minutes before Butler answered with a slam dunk, a three-pointer and a layup to give coach Erik Spoelstra’s squad a 10-point lead and seal Atlanta’s fate.
“Coach told me to go out there and be a killer, score as many points as possible, so that’s what I did,” Butler said. Butler made 15-of-25 shots from the floor, 4-of-7 from three-point range, and sank 11-of-12 free throws while also contributing five rebounds, five assists and two steals. “Just staying aggressive, taking what the defense gives me,” Butler said. “My teammates want me to play like that. I felt like I’m in a groove. I’m comfortable. My guys are always looking for me.” Atlanta’s Trae Young, kept to a season-low eight points Sunday in an opening loss, had 25 points but also committed 10 turnovers.
At Memphis, Ja Morant led the host Grizzlies with 23 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds after taking the blame for an opening loss. “My job was to come out and correct that and that’s what I did,” Morant said. “No point to be mad about game one. There’s a lot of basketball to be played.” The 22-year-old guard scored 11 points in the third quarter, when Memphis pulled away. Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson each added 16 points for Memphis, which had seven double-digit scorers. Anthony Edwards led the Timberwolves with 20 points. – AFP