The New Orleans Pelicans needed to win two games in the play-in tournament just to secure the eighth seed in the Western Conference bracket of the NBA playoffs. By winning eight more games than any other NBA team this season, the Phoenix Suns earned the No. 1 seed in the West.
But entering Tuesday night’s game, the best-of-seven postseason series between the Pelicans and Suns is tied at two games apiece.
New Orleans knotted the series by beating Phoenix 118-103 on Sunday night. In the victory, Pelicans rookie forward Herb Jones contributed 13 points, two rebounds, three assists, two steals and three blocked shots. What made Jones’ blocked shots especially impressive was that each came on a 3-point attempt by the Suns.
“Especially in the playoffs, you got to play with a little bit more fire than usual,” jones said, “and I feel like that fuels the entire team, even guys who are not playing up on the bench. I feel like it all works together.”
Jones helped hold Phoenix guard Chris Paul to four points on Sunday night after the 12-time All-Star had scored 28 in the Suns’ 114-111 victory on Friday.
“It was tough,” jones said“but like I said, we just executed the game plan pretty well and tried to be up in the pick-and-rolls.”
Jones’ performance brought out a parade of testimonials after the game about the contributions from the former Hale County High School and Alabama standout:
· Pelicans coach Willie Green said: “It’s an unlimited amount of competitive fire that he has. He’s a quiet guy in nature. But on the floor, he’s aggressive, he’s all about it, he’s into guys and you could see it come out when he and Chris and other guys were getting in it, he was just battling.”
Pelicans guard CJ McCollum said: “It’s incredible to see his attention to detail, his athleticism. I was talking to (assistant coach AJ) Diggs about it earlier. I’ve never seen a guy this young, this sharp, this smart, this unbothered, unfazed. He’s getting the toughest assignments every night unbothered. He comes in with the same personality, the same swagger. You know what you’re going to get from him. I think the really cool part is he can guard on the ball and off the ball. A lot of guys can’t do that, especially as rookies. Either you got on-ball stoppers or guys who can chase. He can do both. And his ability to close space is unlike anything I’ve seen. He’s not blocking shots out of the hand. He’s meeting the ball in the air, which is incredible. The wingspan, the timing, the length, and then him being able to get into the ball. … The sky’s the limit for him. He’s going to be very good, not only for us, but for this league going forward, and he’ll be first-team All-Defense as soon as they start watching Pelicans’ games.”
Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado said: “He’s not a rookie. He changes the game for us. He’s probably one of the best defenders I’ve seen, and he’s doing a hell of a job, and we need him to keep doing him and we’re going to be all right.”
New Orleans had a 3-13 record when Jones became a regular starter on Nov. 24. Since then, the Pelicans have gone 37-35.
Jones finished sixth in the voting for the KIA NBA Rookie of the Year Award for the 2021-22 season. From the panel of 100 selectors, Jones received one third-place vote.
Of the five players who finished ahead of Jones in the voting, only one is still playing – Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes.
The Pelicans and Suns will square off at 9 pm CDT Tuesday at the Footprint Center in Phoenix. TNT will televise the game.
Game 6 of the series will be played on Thursday at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans. The time for the game has not been set.
“We love playing here in New Orleans,” jones said. “I’m glad we get another game here.”
Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.