New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14) slam dunks in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz in New Orleans, Thursday, Dec. 28, 2023. The Pelicans won 112-105. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Brandon Ingram and Trey Murphy III made clutch shots from outside, Larry Nance Jr. provided intensity in the paint and the Pelicans broke their habit of falling apart at the end of close games.
Ingram highlighted a 26-point performance with a momentum-turning 3-pointer inside the final three minutes, and the New Orleans Pelicans held on for a 112-105 victory over the Utah Jazz on Thursday night.
“It just felt like more grit, more scrap,” said Nance, who returned from a rib injury that had sidelined him for 13 games. “It didn’t feel like we were wasting clock, playing not to lose.”
The strong finish was a relief for the Pelicans, whose last three losses were by two points or less — two of them after blowing double-digit leads in the second half at home.
“We were executing and scoring,” Nance said of the final minutes. “They can’t guard us, so why would we let off the gas?”
Ingram’s 3 gave New Orleans a 102-98 lead. Soon after, Dyson Daniels went to the floor to grab a loose ball and and delivered a clever bounce pass between Lauri Markkanen’s legs to the perimeter, where Murphy, who’d missed his first six shots, made his first of the game from 3-point range. Nance followed that with a cutting dunk on a feed from Zion Williamson to make it 107-100.
Utah was within 109-105 on Markkanen’s free throws with 38 seconds left before Murphy put it away with another 3 with 18 seconds to go.
“He’s resilient,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said of Murphy. “That was a growth moment for him. He just stuck with it.”
Williamson had 21 points and 10 rebounds for his second straight double-double and fifth of the season as the Pelicans outscored the Jazz 62-42 in the paint. CJ McCollum added 22 points for New Orleans, which snapped a two-game skid.
“We’re figuring it out,” Williamson said. “Depending on the night and what matchups we like, I think we’ll attack that.”
Collin Sexton scored 26 points for Utah, which had won its previous three during a five-game trip that ended in New Orleans. Markkanen had 24 points and 10 rebounds for the Jazz. Walker Kessler hit all five of his shots and finished with 11 points while Jordan Clarkson had 10 points.
“We seemed a little bit sluggish with our decision-making, probably a little bit of over-dribbling by the whole team tonight. The ball wasn’t moving as early and often as it has been recently,” Utah coach Will Hardy said, also making note of his team’s 17 turnovers. “I would really give the Pelicans a lot of credit. They made some big plays down the stretch.”
But Hardy did not want to lose sight of Utah’s recent improvement.
“I want the team to feel — to be upset about losing for sure tonight, but I think overall to feel pretty good about where they’re at as a team,” Hardy said. “We’ve been playing much better basketball the last three weeks.”
McCollum had 14 points in the first half, when he hit four 3s.
Nance finished with nine points, seven rebounds, five steals and a block in 25 minutes. His cutting dunk gave New Orleans its largest lead of the game at 57-46 in the second quarter.
“Having Larry back was huge for us. That’s the Larry we’re all accustomed to,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “He worked his tail off to get himself ready to come in and play and be who he is to this team.”
Markkanen’s 3 and Kelly Olynyk’s putback helped Utah cut it to 59-51 at halftime.
Jazz: Host Miami on Saturday night.
Pelicans: Host the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night.