The New Orleans Pelicans can be forgiven for breathing a sigh of relief following an NBA Play-In Tournament victory over the Sacramento Kings. They were without an injured Zion Williamson and just one loss away from squandering a 49-win season. Falling short of the NBA Playoffs would have kicked off a long offseason of roster reconsideration for a franchise perpetually asking ‘what-if' since relocating to the Crescent City.

Thankfully, Willie Green's defensive-minded squad pulled off a rare home win to survive the league's newest postseason venture. Next up is a first-round matchup with the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder, but that scouting session was on the backburner after advancing to the first round.

Green was counting the team's blessings after a big home win over the Sacramento Kings in Friday's do-or-die play-in game saved the season.

“(Making the NBA Playoffs) means a lot. It's a huge blessing. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to lead this group,” Green stressed after the win. “This is major for our organization to have NBA Playoffs appearances in two out of the last three seasons. It's been up and down the last couple of weeks, to be honest. A lot of prayer. A lot of trusting and having faith and it leads to this point.”

Green was not stressing the results or the process, just lamenting the Play-In path the team took with fates in their own hands.

“This is what the journey is about. It's believing in each other and having faith in going out there and doing what we need to do to win,” Green said. “It was huge to get a win here at home. It's been a struggle. I think in the last eight games or so, we've only won one. It was big time for our guys to pull together and get this win.”

Pelicans lean into defensive identity to earn Play-In win

New Orleans Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado (15) reacts to making a three point basket against the Sacramento Kings in the second half during a play-in game of the 2024 NBA playoffs at Smoothie King Center
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The third-year coach was ready to live and die by a defense-first approach since day one of taking the Pelicans job. That mantra remained unchanged going into the win-or-go-home Play-In bout with the Kings.

Green stressed how much winning while playing to the Pelicans' identity meant in the postgame media scrum.

“Our defense has been the foundation of this team since I got here,” Green explained. “That was one thing I was adamant about as a coach is making sure we are a sound defensive team because you can win games like this. Our offense has gotten better but our defense was off the chart (versus the Kings). Contesting shots, flying around getting 50-50 basketballs, rebounding, just across the board our defense was at a high level. That foundation allowed us to win this game.”

Williamson is out for a couple weeks, but Brandon Ingram is back to again lead the Pelicans through a first-round playoff series against an NBA Finals contender.

“Our margin for error is lower without (Zion Williamson). We have to come out and attack. We have to be the aggressors,” asserted Ingram. “I think a good thing going into these playoffs is we've had a lot of tests,” Ingram replied. “both with me in the lineup and without me in the lineup. We'll be prepared. We know every possession counts. We know what we have to do on the defensive end by rebounding the basketball and pushing the pace. This is a time for us to be extra locked in on everything we need to do.”