In the NBA postseason, the number 8 seeds rarely find a way to make it out of the first round of the playoff bracket. Since the playoffs expanded in 1984, only five number 8 seeds have managed to win their first-round matchup and advance to the semi-finals of their respective conference.
That number could increase to six if the New Orleans Pelicans have anything to say about it.
The Pelicans, who had to win both of their Play-In Tournament games to make it into the postseason as the eighth seed, knotted up their first-round series with the Phoenix Suns at two games apiece with their Game 4 victory. Aside from a brief stretch at the end of the second quarter, New Orleans generally controlled the proceedings, which is a worrying prospect for the Suns.
Why the Phoenix Suns are struggling so much
While the Pelicans are playing inspired basketball, the Suns have struggled to overcome the loss of Devin Booker. Booker injured his hamstring in Game 2 and hasn’t played since then. He also doesn’t have a timetable to return, further complicating matters for Phoenix.
As a result, the Suns have placed much of their focus on Chris Paul, and it did wonders in Game 4. Paul had 11 assists, but he only had four points on 2-8 shooting, as the Pelicans did everything in their power to keep him quiet. Paul took over Games 1 & 3 with dominant fourth-quarter performances; there was no such performance to see in Game 4.
The Suns have a ton of depth, but New Orleans has put their attention on Paul with Booker on the sidelines, and it’s worked perfectly. Phoenix relies heavily on Paul’s ability to create open looks for himself and his teammates, and even though he’s getting his teammates open, it hasn’t mattered when he’s not hitting shots himself.
The New Orleans Pelicans are also playing at the top of their game
It would be remiss of me not to credit New Orleans for playing some great basketball and pin their success on Booker’s injury. The Pelicans wholeheartedly believed coming into this series that they could beat Phoenix. The fact that they now have one less star to worry about on the other side has only reinforced that notion. Here’s what Brandon Ingram has to say after his third straight 30 point outing.
“I feel it’s our time. We work so hard throughout the year to become a better team. We finally get the chance to be on a really, really big stage and continue to play good. My teammates have been helping me out a lot, just putting me in the right spots, passing me the ball in the right areas. Just making me look good. It’s been a team effort, and I love playing with the guys.”
The Pelicans have transformed into a scrappy underdog team that was probably the only group of people who thought they could win against the Suns in the first round heading into the series. Now, with the series tied at 2-2, they are starting to make believers out of all of us. With Ingram leading the way, along with CJ McCollum and Jonas Valanciunas, New Orleans and Phoenix appear to be at even strength with three games left to go in the series.
If Booker can make his return to the court at some point this series, that would tip the scales back in the Suns’ favor. But until then, the Pelicans have a real shot at beating the Suns in their first-round series, as they have begun to figure out how to slow down what once appeared to be an unstoppable Phoenix squad.
They believe in themselves, and now it’s time for the rest of the NBA world to believe in them.