The eighth-seeded New Orleans Pelicans shocked the world on Tuesday night, upsetting the NBA-best Phoenix Suns in Game 2 to tie up the first-round series at 1-1. The win makes things more interesting by itself, but Devin Booker's hamstring injury adds another layer of intrigue as he appears set to miss time. What once looked like an easy series win for the Suns could turn into a dogfight.
Do the Pelicans really have a legitimate chance of pulling off a shocking upset? While the ridiculous shooting from Game 2 (17-of-30 from 3-point range) isn't sustainable, there are signs here that suggest New Orleans could do it after becoming the only team so far to win two games in Phoenix this season. The Pelicans battled in Game 1 and then went toe-to-toe with the Suns in Game 2 even before Booker went down, and that was despite the Suns star going for 31 points in the first half.
So, even though Phoenix is still the clear favorite, here's why New Orleans has a chance to do the unthinkable.
*Watch NBA games LIVE with fuboTV (click for free trial)*
Why Pelicans can upset Suns
Ingram put forth a full-blown superstar performance in Game 2, going for 37 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists while shooting 13-of-21 from the field, 3-of-3 from 3 and 8-of-8 from the foul line. The Pelicans outscored the Suns by 18 points in his 39 minutes, and he stuck dagger after dagger in them in the fourth quarter. The star forward scored 12 of his 37 points in the final frame and hit a variety of tough shots.
Meanwhile, McCollum racked up 23 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. He didn't have the best overall shooting night by going 7-of-18 from the field, but he did go 6-of-10 from 3-land and had eight points in the fourth quarter. His arrival to the Pelicans ahead of the trade deadline helped change their fortunes this season, giving them another dynamic offensive weapon alongside Ingram.
When Ingram and McCollum are cooking, they're one of the best scoring duos in the NBA. They both can get buckets against even the best defenses, as evidenced in Game 2 against Mikal Bridges and company. It's true the Suns weren't at their best on Tuesday, but some of this was tough shotmakers making tough shots. If these guys can keep it going, New Orleans has a chance.
Pelicans rookies rising to the occasion
The Pelicans have three rookies playing key minutes in their rotation: Herb Jones, Jose Alvarado and Trey Murphy.
All three players made big contributions in Game 2, combining for 31 points and 7-of-10 shooting from 3-point range. Jones is already one of the better defenders in the NBA, while Alvarado is a spark plug off the bench who just makes things happen with his energy. Murphy shot over 38% from 3-point range this season and racked up three steals in Game 2.
It's rare to see young role players make such an impact on the road in the playoffs. It may be hard to sustain this over the course of a full series against such a heavy favorite, but these guys look up to the challenge and won't back down.
Dominance on the glass
The Pelicans won the rebounding battle 55-35 in Game 1, thanks in large part to a ridiculous 24 offensive rebounds. Jonas Valanciunas had 13 offensive boards himself and wound up with 25 total rebounds for the game.
The differential wasn't as big in Game 2, but New Orleans outrebounded Phoenix by 10 and grabbed another 11 offensive boards. This resulted in a 15-9 advantage in second chance points.
Valanciunas is an absolute hoss down low, and the Pelicans will give themselves a better chance to win by getting all those extra opportunities. They also have Jaxson Hayes and Larry Nance Jr. as springy rebounders who can wreak havoc on the backboards.
The Devin Booker injury
Booker is still being evaluated, but it appears he's going to miss Games 3 and 4 in New Orleans, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. While he hasn't been ruled out for the remainder of the series, this is a significant development.
The Suns can still survive if Booker indeed misses extended time. They won 64 games for a reason, and they did that despite missing Chris Paul for a chunk of time. But losing that dynamic scorer in Booker would make life more difficult for them, and it would open the door for New Orleans:
Devin Booker is unlikely to play Games 3 and 4 in New Orleans vs. the Pelicans. His right hamstring MRI results are still being evaluated.
Suns record this season:
With Booker: Without Booker:
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) April 20, 2022
If the Pelicans are able to keep it cooking offensively, it would be tougher for the Suns to keep up without Booker in the lineup.
There's a long way to go in this series, and the Pelicans winning one game doesn't necessarily mean the Suns are fully primed for an upset. However, the questions surrounding Booker's status makes the upset possibility much more realistic, setting up two intense games coming up in New Orleans that likely won't feature the All-Star shooting guard. And, hey, maybe Zion Williamson makes a surprise return. Anything is possible!