Suns melt down in 2nd half as Pelicans even series at 2-2

Apr 24, 2022, 9:20 PM | Updated: 9:22 pm
New Orleans Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas (17) shoots over Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson...

New Orleans Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas (17) shoots over Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson (23) and center JaVale McGee (00) in the first half of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series in New Orleans, Sunday, April 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

(AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

Few things went right for the Suns in a 118-103 Game 4 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday that has the 1-9 seed matchup in the first round heading back to Phoenix tied, 2-2.

The more-aggressive Pelicans were a plus-22 from the free-throw line.

Their best player, Brandon Ingram, went off for 30 points by the end of another winning third quarter for his team — New Orleans has outscored Phoenix in the period 137-93 over four games — and didn’t need another point as the Pelicans pulled away in the fourth.

Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas outdid Phoenix’s best player in the series, Deandre Ayton. While Ayton posted 23 points on 11-of-14 shooting, Valanciunas went for 26 points, 15 rebounds and four assists with a +19 plus-minus.

Phoenix for the second game in a row shot below 27% from three-point range (7-of-27), not allowing them to take advantage when they held the Pelicans to 25% shooting (6-of-24) from deep.

Simply put, the Suns had no answers.

Suns point guard Chris Paul, hounded by pressing defenses all series, played right into the Pelicans’ hands.

He toed the line of earning eight-second violations regularly in the first half before backup Pelicans point guard Jose Alvarado forced him into one in the second half to the cheers of the Smoothie King Center crowd. With that pressure, Phoenix’s offense thrived by attacking in pick-and-rolls but not running the offense that has made their entire roster so dangerous en route to 64 regular season wins.

Fellow defensive menace Herb Jones, who has been primarily on Paul since the Suns lost Devin Booker to a hamstring injury in Game 2, recorded three blocks and two steals while gunking up Phoenix’s offense.

For the Suns, offense was hard to come by outside of Ayton and backup center JaVale McGee, who added 14 points off the bench.

Starting wings Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Jae Crowder went 11-for-29 (37%), and backup guards Cam Payne and Landry Shamet combined for only 15 points on 15 shots.

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