In the second quarter of Game 3 in the Pelicans’ first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns, Jaxson Hayes was ejected after he shoved Suns forward Jae Crowder while they battled for a potential rebound.
Hayes was assessed a flagrant foul 2 after officials determined that he made unnecessary contact as he delivered a blow to Crowder.
Friday night’s game in the Smoothie King Center was tied at 43 when Hayes got tossed. Over the final five minutes of the first half, the Suns went on a 16-5 run.
Hayes finished with four points and six rebounds in 10 minutes, and the Pelicans lost 114-111, giving Phoenix a 2-1 lead in their best-of-seven series.
“We had the crowd on our side,” guard Devonte’ Graham said. “I feel like they had us amped up even more. It’s the playoffs, man. They’re an experienced team. They know how to use that against you. That’s what they kind of did yesterday.”
Jaxson Hayes has been ejected after getting a flagrant 2 for this foul on Jae Crowder. 👀
—Deep Hoops (@deep_hoops) April 23, 2022
Hayes is one of seven Pelicans players who have gotten their first taste of playoff action this month. On Saturday, coach Willie Green said Hayes made a mistake but that overall, he liked how his players has managed their emotions on a heightened stage.
“I thought we’ve done a really good job of that this series,” Green said. “We had a moment — the Jaxson-Jae Crowder thing. But other than that, it was a close game coming down the stretch, the last five minutes. They pulled away a bit. But we’re doing a lot of good. We just have to be better down the stretch.”
Hayes played an important role in the Pelicans’ Game 2 win Tuesday. He scored nine points on 4-of-7 shooting. In New Orleans’ Games 1 and 3 losses, he scored a combined eight points.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Pelicans tied the game at 81. Then Suns guard Chris Paul checked back in.
Paul delivered a masterclass in the final 10 minutes of the game, when he scored 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting. All but one of Paul’s fourth-quarter makes were midrange jumpers. He dissected the Pelicans in the pick and roll.
The Suns finished with just five turnovers. Green said figuring out how to disrupt them more is an important battleground.
“We have to cause more deflections, get more steals,” Green said. “I thought they did a good job of getting more 50-50 balls. We can’t allow that on our home floor. That’s the reason they were able to pull away, was because of those types of plays.”
Another issue New Orleans must rectify to even the series Sunday: center Jonas Valanciunas is struggling to score. He finished with six points on 1-of-5 shooting in Game 3. In the series, he has converted 12 of 35 shots.
“We talked about that as well in our film work,” Green said. “Getting the ball to him. Posting him up. Allowing him to play-make from the post is important. We didn’t do a great job of that in Game 3. That’s an area where we can be better.”
The Pelicans’ margin for error is razor thin against the Suns, who during the regular season won eight more games than the next-closest team. Even without Booker, who missed Game 2 while nursing a hamstring strain, the Suns are difficult to beat.
“We just have to do the things that we do at a better notch,” Green said. “I thought we were half a step under where we needed to be against a really good team. If we do those things, clean up some things, make some adjustments — especially with Chris coming down the stretch — we’ll be better.”