The Los Angeles Clippers defeated the shorthanded New Orleans Pelicans 111-106 on Wednesday at Staples Center.
The hosts outscored the Pels 33-15 in the second quarter to take a 61-43 halftime edge, but the Pels cut the lead to four points multiple times in the fourth quarter thanks to second-year point guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who finished with a game- and career-high 37 points on 15-of-23 shooting.
New Orleans put up a valiant effort despite being without Zion Williamson (health and safety protocols), Lonzo Ball (bilateral knee tendinopathy) and Eric Bledsoe (right eye irritation).
The 8-4 Clippers won their second straight game. The 4-6 Pels have lost four straight.
Pelicans PG Nickeil Alexander-Walker: 37 points, 8 rebounds
Pelicans PF Brandon Ingram: 22 points, 6 rebounds
Pelicans C Steven Adams: 12 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists
Clippers F Kawhi Leonard: 28 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds
Clippers G/F Paul George: 27 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds
Clippers C Serge Ibaka: 12 points
Leonard, George Carry Clippers Over Finish Line
The Clippers looked like they were going to cruise to a victory after leading by 18 at halftime. At that point, it was possible the starters wouldn't even see the court in the third quarter, especially considering the Pels were missing three key players.
However, Alexander-Walker had other ideas, and he guided the Pels within four points on multiple occasions in the final minutes.
The Clips needed an answer for that firepower, which meant Leonard and George had to deliver on the offensive end.
That wasn't a problem. Leonard posted 12 points and three assists, and George had eight points and three dimes. Together, they combined for 20 of the Clippers' 28 fourth-quarter points and assisted on another five.
George's vision was particularly helpful as he found Ivica Zubac for two:
Everything went right for PG-13 in the fourth despite the Pels' push, and he was the beneficiary of some lucky bounces on this bucket that bounced off the top of the backboard and in:
As for Leonard, the two-time NBA Finals MVP proved particularly clutch every time the Pels threatened the Clippers' lead. After Brandon Ingram made a layup to bring New Orleans within four points, 87-83, Leonard hit a nine-footer to put L.A. back up six. Ingram responded with another bucket, but two possessions later, Leonard found Patrick Beverley for a three-pointer.
He then went on a personal 5-0 run before assisting on a George and-1 layup that put L.A. up 100-89. An Alexander-Walker three later cut the Clips' lead back down to six, but Leonard immediately responded with a three to help keep the Pels at arm's length.
New Orleans eventually cut the lead to five, but it was too late at that point after Leonard and George got the job done.
Alexander-Walker Puts on a Show in L.A.
The Pelicans entered Wednesday as significant underdogs. They were missing one of their best players in Williamson, their point guard in Ball and another backcourt starter in Bledsoe.
In addition, they were on a three-game losing streak and about to face the Clippers, a Western Conference title contender, on the road. Not only that, but the Clips entered this matchup healthy, and George and Leonard were both in the lineup.
None of that mattered to Alexander-Walker, who nearly willed the Pelicans to victory.
He announced his presence by making four of five shots in the first quarter for nine points.
If he wasn't nailing three-pointers, then he was slicing into the lane for the finish:
But the Pels needed the three-ball to get back in the game after falling behind by 18 at halftime. Alexander-Walker answered that call with this step-back three:
At that point, Alexander-Walker was already scorching hot, and his torrid pace was suddenly pulling the Pels back into the game. This bucket dropped the Clips' lead into single digits:
He was equally fearless, taking on a 7-footer in Zubac and creating enough space for a layup:
Alexander-Walker did all he could to earn the win, but it wasn't meant to be as the Pels couldn't come within one possession. Still, the former Virginia Tech star posted some eye-popping stats by game's end:
Alexander-Walker was taking over for the injured Ball, who will presumably take back his starting job upon his return. However, ESPN's Andrew Lopez provided some good points about his night and what it means for his future:
Andrew Lopez @_Andrew_Lopez
Re: Nickeil Alexander-Walker Feels like he's comfortable because he knew what his role was from the jump. He knew he wasn't going to get taken out because of one or two mistakes. And he played comfortably. Idk if you see 37 again, but feels like he's earned 20 mins a night.
Ultimately, the 22-year-old made a strong case for more playing time and a larger role in the Pels' rotation.
Both teams have road games on Friday at 10 p.m. ET. The Clips will visit the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center, and New Orleans will stay in L.A. to play the Lakers.