McCollum scores 40, Pelicans top Spurs 126-117 to end skid
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — CJ McCollum scored a season-high 40 points and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the San Antonio Spurs 126-117 on Thursday night to end their four-game losing streak.
Jonas Valanciunas had 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Pelicans, who won despite Zion Williamson being scratched from the lineup because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
The Pelicans — who also were missing forwards Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance Jr. — made 13 3-pointers. McCollum hit seven from deep, and his first gave New Orleans the lead for good at 3-2 in the opening minutes.
“We needed that type of production from him with the guys being out,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “It’s beautiful to watch when he’s on the floor and he’s scoring like he does.”
The Pelicans led by as many as 23 points and opened the fourth quarter with a 19-point lead.
The Spurs got back in the game with a 10-0 run fueled by Stanley Johnson, who scored nine of his 12 points in the final period.
McCollum, however, almost single-handedly kept the Spurs at bay. His floater off the glass was the first of 19 points he scored in a pivotal seven-minute stretch. The individual outburst included four 3s — one while McCollum was fouled for a 4-point play.
“McCollum dominated the game from the very beginning,” reserve center Willy Hernangomez said. “I’m happy for CJ. He’s been really getting his rhythm back. Today was a big game for him. I’m happy to see him making shots and making the right decision over and over.”
The last of McCollum’s 3s made it 119-106 with 3:31 to go. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich subbed out his entire lineup moments later, and the Pelicans remained comfortably ahead after that.
“We’ll get down, figure it out, and then start playing,” Popovich said. “We don’t have somebody like a McCollum that’s going to come in and do what he did to us. We made it a decent game at that point and then he took over. He was great.”
Jeremy Sochan scored a career-high 23 points for San Antonio.
“I am becoming more comfortable and confident,” Sochan said. “I had career highs tonight but we still lost, so it doesn’t really matter.”
Tre Jones added 19 points and Josh Richardson had 14 for the Spurs.
The Pelicans missed their first nine shots from close range but hit four of their six 3-point attempts — with McCollum making three — to take a 12-2 lead.
The Spurs missed eight of their first nine shots and committed three turnovers during that stretch.
“Sometimes, like tonight, we come out slow on offense but we can’t let that affect our game,” Tre Jones said. “We have to keep our defensive mentality especially when shots are not falling at the start of the game.
By the end of the first quarter, the Pelicans had made six 3s, the last of those by Devonte’ Graham putting New Orleans up 37-17.
“We can’t give away a quarter the way we did,” Popovich said. “We played them pretty even after that first quarter, but we do that too often. … We can’t have those first quarters. That’s the whole game.”
Spurs: Leading scorer Keldon Johnson missed his second straight game with right hamstring tightness. … Jakob Poeltl scored 13 points and Devin Vassell scored 10. … Missed 19 of 28 3-point shots.
Pelicans: Trey Murphy III scored 15 points, while Hernangomez scored 13 and Herb Jones scored 12 to go with his block and two steals. … Jose Alvarado had nine points and three steals. … Hit 25 of 27 free throws (92.6%). … Ingram missed his 12th straight game with his left large toe injury and Nance missed his second straight game with a sore right Achilles tendon. Williamson also is expected to miss at least one more game.
Spurs: At Orlando on Friday night.
Pelicans: At Oklahoma City on Friday night.
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