New Orleans Pelicans maintain top spot in West

The New Orleans Pelicans and Phoenix Suns left all that behind after Friday night’s contest. Sunday’s game did take more time to decide though.

Suns guard Chris Paul sent the game into overtime with a bucket with 2.8 left to play in regulation but it was the Pelicans who prevailed in the extra period to take a 129-124 victory and maintain their hold on the top spot in the Western Conference.

Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, who tied his season high with 35 points, said being atop the west even in early December was important.

“We’re number one in the West right now,” Williamson said. “I know to a lot of people that’s not a big deal because it’s still early in the season, but for us to have that ranking right now, that’s big. We want to not only hold on to it but build on it.”

Williamson had a chance to win the game in regulation after Paul’s basket, but his jumper didn’t fall. Both teams were looking for their first overtime victory this season. The Pelicans had dropped all three of their overtime games prior to Sunday while the Suns lost their only other game to Portland in the opening week of the season.

Williamson hit a basket to start the overtime period and the Suns responded with a Torrey Craig 3-pointer to take a brief lead, but the Pelicans answered with a 9-0 run to take control. The run was almost cut short though with 2:52 remaining when Williamson was called for a foul on Paul while the Suns guard was shooting a 3-pointer.

Pelicans coach Willie Green looked back at his bench and immediately challenged the call saying that Paul stuck his leg out as Williamson was flying by. After looking at the replay, officials agreed and the call was changed to an offensive foul, giving Paul his sixth of the game and sending him to the bench.

“We have a crew behind the bench that does a great job of taking a quick look at what happened, and they give me a demonstrative yes or no,” Green said. “And that one was a demonstrative yes.”

Once Paul fouled out, it meant Phoenix was without their key pieces. Deandre Ayton fouled out with 36.4 seconds left in regulation challenging a Williamson shot and Devin Booker missed the game with left hamstring tightness.

It was the seventh consecutive victory for the Pelicans who have surged to the top of the Western Conference, taking the spot once owned by Phoenix. New Orleans improved to 18-8 while the Suns were handed their fourth straight loss.

The Pelicans have won 12 of their last 14 games and after defeating the Suns in back-to-back games, the team is hoping they can keep things going.

“I thought the last two games were high level,” Green said. “That team over there, that’s a good team. I know all those guys. I know what they’re about. They play hard. Well coached. Disciplined. For us to take them on our home floor and win these two games is huge for our program.”

The Pelicans won’t have to wait long to see the Suns either. After two games in Salt Lake City this week against the Utah Jazz, New Orleans travels to Phoenix on Saturday to wrap up the season series. The Suns defeated New Orleans in Phoenix on Oct. 29, 124-111.

Williamson and Brandon Ingram missed that game for the Pelicans and Ingram (left big toe contusion) and forward Herb Jones (left ankle sprain) missed both of the Suns’ games in New Orleans.

Prior to Sunday’s game, Green said he was “extremely hopeful” Ingram and Jones could return on the upcoming road trip. (ESPN)