Staring at a double-digit deficit and watching their dwindling playoff hopes fade away late in the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night, the New Orleans Pelicans leaned on Zion Williamson, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram to keep them fighting.
Trailing by 10 with under four minutes left, the Pelicans used a 14-4 run to force overtime and then Williamson scored seven of his game-high 37 points in the final period to lead the Pelicans to a 140-136 win.
A loss Saturday would have put the Pelicans four games back of the play-in tournament with eight games to go. Instead, they’re three back heading into Monday night’s showdown against the Golden State Warriors, who currently hold the eighth seed.
“I think it gives us great momentum,” said Williamson, who added nine rebounds and eight assists. “We got the win. In the locker room, that’s all we care about. We got the win and it allows us to go back home with great momentum and hopefully we can carry it.”
Ball had a career-high 33 points, tied a career best with eight 3-pointers and added 11 rebounds and eight assists.
According to Elias Sports Bureau research, Williamson and Ball became just the fifth set of teammates in NBA history to each have at least 30 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists in a game.
“A lot of guys on this team that just got that fight in them, that dog in them,” Ball said. “It came out tonight, and we ended up going into overtime with a good stop by Z. And then he carried us in OT and we came out with the win.”
Down the stretch, Ingram also stepped up on what was otherwise a cold-shooting night (4-of-17). Ingram drew back-to-back fouls just before the two-minute mark that cut the lead to four and fouled out Jaden McDaniels in the process.
After a Willy Hernangomez putback tied the score with 21.9 seconds to go, Williamson helped force a bad 3-point attempt by D’Angelo Russell to send the game to an extra session.
It was a result the Pelicans hoped they could have seen Wednesday night when they also came back from a late deficit to almost force overtime — although a no-call on a dunk attempt by Williamson led to a two-point win by the Denver Nuggets.
This time, Williamson took over in the extra period and fouled out Karl-Anthony Towns and Naz Reid on back-to-back plays to stretch the Pelicans’ lead to six with 1:38 to go and put New Orleans in control.
“We didn’t get the result we wanted in the Denver game, but we kept fighting ’til the very end,” Williamson said. “That’s the mindset we have to have going into these final [eight] games. Have to take it one game at a time and play until the final buzzer.”
According to ESPN Stats and Information, teams were 7-637 entering Saturday when trailing by 10 points in the final four minutes of regulation. New Orleans’ win was victory No. 8.
With the win in the bag, the Pelicans can shift their complete attention to the Warriors on Monday. Their task — trying to take down Stephen Curry and company three times in the final eight games.
“Our fate is not in nobody else’s hands. It’s on us to go out there and win,” Williamson said. “You can’t ask for nothing better than that for the situation we’re currently in. The fate is in our hands, and we just gotta make it happen.”
The Pelicans (29-35) are three games behind both the Warriors (32-32) and the Spurs (31-31), but with San Antonio owning the regular-season tiebreaker over New Orleans and the three games left against Golden State, winning against the Warriors creates the most viable path to the playoffs.
Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said the team has talked about viewing each of its remaining games as its “biggest game of the year.”
“That’s how you have to approach it because we can’t afford very many losses,” Van Gundy said. “Obviously we’re fighting with Golden State, so everybody will focus on that. But you give away a game tonight, it just gets further and further out of reach.”
For New Orleans, the hope is some of the momentum from Saturday’s comeback can carry into Monday’s contest.
“[We’re] going into Monday with a must-win mentality,” Ball said. “We’re not really focused on Tuesday. We gotta take it one game at a time. We can’t look ahead. We have to put all our focus on that first game Monday and come out with a win and go from there.
“It helps a lot that our destiny is in our hands. We don’t have to worry about anybody else. It’s all on us. We have three games against them. It won’t be easy at all. We know it’s a tough task. But it’s possible. And that’s all we can ask for is a chance. So we’ll come in Monday ready to go.”