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Reserve Power: Zion Williamson and Willie Green Propel Pelicans to Victory against Wizards

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As the Pelicans took down the Wizards, Zion Williams and Willie Green credited the reserves for a hard-fought victory.

Storylines focusing on the New Orleans Pelicans usually revolve around the Big Three of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and CJ McCollum. However, it was the bench production of the ‘Back Three’ that came through in a closer-than-expected 133-126 Pelicans win over the visiting Washington Wizards though.

Naji Marshall (+21), Jose Alvarado (+17), and Trey Murphy (+18) finished with the three highest plus/minus numbers on the team.

Sure Williamson (36 points) and McCollum (26) paced the team on offense. Ingram cleared a historical milestone on the way to a subdued 18-point night. But Marshall, Alvardo, and Murphy brought the energy, especially in the second half. They combined for 33 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, eight steals, and two blocks to help negate a career-high 43-point night from Deni Avdija.

Pelicans Big 3 closes games, reserves energize them

New Orleans Pelicans forward Naji Marshall (8) reacts to a play by guard Jose Alvarado (15) against the Washington Wizards during the second half at Smoothie King Center.
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The Pelicans’ Big Three closed the game. But the three reserves kept things from getting out of hand, per third-year head coach Willie Green.

“We expect those (Williamson, Ingram, and McCollum) to carry us and close out games when they have to, but I thought our second unit, that small group that we went with – they were huge defensively,” Green explained. “Switching screens, being aggressive, the physicality they brought, they’re playing fast and getting stops.”

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New Orleans paraded through a stretch of eight road games out of nine. Finally at home, they got comfortable early. The Pelicans squandered a 20-point lead to let the Wizards get ahead with just over a minute remaining in the third quarter.

“It’s a gutsy win,” Green continued. “We made it probably more difficult than it needed to be, but at this time of year you just continue to stack wins.”

Williamson agreed with the assessment from Green.

“We have got to stop doing that,” Williamson admitted. “I’ll be the first to say it, we’ve got to stop doing that.  That starts with me, B, and CJ but truth be told we have got to stop doing that. When we get a lead, especially if we want to make a deep run in the playoffs, we have got to be able to maintain leads. We can’t come out to start the game, in the third, and come out slow hoping the second unit will bail us out.”

Marshall, Alvarado, and Murphy hit some bail-out shots and the Pelicans took control to start the fourth quarter. The reserves energized the game, the Big Three closed it. New Orleans never relinquished the lead in the final frame and Williamson credited the trio after the win.

“(The reserves were) very important,” said Williamson. “Our bench is important to us, they bring the energy every game. Whether some guys play, whether some don’t. We are a close team. Like I said, we have to keep that momentum going into the break.”

The Pelicans have no All-Star participants besides Jordan Hawkins in the Rising Stars Challenge game. They will have a week to rest before three home games against the Houston Rockets, Miami Heat, and Chicago Bulls kick off the season’s post-All-Star Game stretch run. Maintaining leads and letting the reserves run a bit more will go a long way to keeping the team’s legs fresh for the NBA Playoffs run.

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