The Phoenix Suns were left unimpressed by the physicality and officiating in their 118-103 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans that levelled the playoff series at 2-2 on Sunday.

The Pelicans repeatedly tested the Suns inside the paint in Game 4, with Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas combining to shoot half of New Orleans' 42 free throws.

By contrast, Monty Williams' Phoenix shot 15 from the line – in what was a 17-2 first-half difference between the sides – while being called for 12 more fouls than their opponents (28 versus 16).

The evergreen Chris Paul did not have one free-throw chance, after throwing 14 in the first three games, and went scoreless in the fourth quarter against defensive nuisance Jose Alvarado, who is a rookie guard.

The 36-year-old also managed just four points at the Smoothie King Center, a joint-low return in his playoff career alongside a four-point tally against the Denver Nuggets in April 2009.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Paul suggested the physicality was a throwback to yesteryear in basketball: "It's like the old NBA, isn't it?

"I asked one of the refs one time, 'Are we playing in the old NBA or the new NBA?'

"I was fortunate enough to play in both of them, we just have to figure out which one it's going to be. Regardless, whatever it is, you've to adjust early in the game and figure it out."

The Suns' coach Williams echoed Paul's frustrations as he bemoaned the officiating but acknowledged the eighth-seeded Pelicans were worthy winners in the Western Conference match-up.

"Forty-two to 15 in free throws – slice it any way you like to, in a playoff game that's physical, that's amazing," he said.

"Coaches shouldn't have to come up to the microphone and feel like they're going to get their head cut off for speaking the truth. It's not like we didn't attack the basket. That's really hard to do.

"They outplayed us and they deserved to win, but that's a free throw disparity."

The Pelicans attempted 46 shots in the paint to the Suns' 41, and New Orleans coach Willie Green was delighted with his team's aggressiveness.

"We were being aggressive. They dominated the paint last game," Green said. "Had 64 points in the paint. So we were well aware that we had to do better in that area."

Paul had 28 assists and zero turnovers in Games 2 and 3, but only produced 11 assists – four of those coming in the fourth quarter – and three turnovers in Game 4.

And Pelicans guard CJ McCollum was delighted with the defensive showing against the first-seeded Phoenix.

"I was tired of hearing about [Paul] breaking records during the fourth quarter," McCollum said of Paul.

"It's just a credit to our defense. Especially our intensity. But also, it's a make-or-miss league. He is not going to make every shot. But some nights, he is going to make a lot of tough ones.

"Tonight, he missed some shots he made the last three games. Credit our defense. But it's a make-or-miss league."

The Suns will also have to contain Ingram in Game 5 on Tuesday after he became the first Pelicans player in team history to score 30 or more in three consecutive playoff games.

The Phoenix Suns are waiting to hear more on Devin Booker's hamstring injury, although coach Monty Williams insisted the NBA title favourites are ready for the "next man up".

After scoring 31 points in the first half of Tuesday's game against the New Orleans Pelicans, giving the Suns a 61-56 lead, Booker was held scoreless in the third quarter before going down injured.

The three-time All-Star, who has battled injury problems previously, left the floor and was unable to return.

"We'll have more information tomorrow," Williams told reporters. "We've played without Chris [Paul] and Book before. If we have to play without Book, next man up. We've done that all year long."

The Suns were 8-6 without Booker this year, 11-6 without Chris Paul and 3-3 when both were absent.

Paul continued on Tuesday to finish with 17 points and 14 assists but acknowledged the blow of Booker's injury.

"It is what it is, it's part of the game," he said. "He was killing, he was having a big-time game."

In Booker's absence, the Suns sensationally lost 125-114 as New Orleans levelled the first-round series at 1-1.

It was a historic win for the Pelicans, who became the first team in NBA history to beat 60-win opponents in the playoffs after themselves finishing the regular season at least 10 games under .500.

Brandon Ingram was the star of the show, with 37 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.

"This was one of his best [games] and it was on the big stage," Pelicans coach Willie Green said of Ingram. "I'm proud of that young man. He works his tail off."

Ingram added: "Throughout this year I had confidence that we would be here.

"I didn't know what it would look like, but we continued to get better every single day with Willie being positive every single day and helping guys and teaching guys every single day."

Chris Paul revealed he was spurred on by the New Orleans Pelicans' defensive strategy during the Phoenix Suns' 110-99 Game 1 win on Sunday.

The 36-year-old, who turns 37 next month, became the oldest player in NBA history to put up 30 points and 10 assists in a playoff game, including 19 points in a brilliant fourth quarter.

After the Pelicans rallied back from a 23-point deficit to make it a two-possession game, Paul took advantage of multiple instances where they went under on-ball screens against him.

Following the game, the 12-time All-Star said he wanted to make former team-mate and now Pelicans coach Willie Green pay for his strategy.

"That's like inviting me to shoot," Paul said. "I know Willie, that's my man. It's all a part of the game."

Paul, who only attempted 3.3 three-pointers per game in the playoffs last season and 3.1 this regular season, went four-of-six from beyond the arc, including three-of-four in the fourth quarter.

Team-mate Devin Booker said of Paul: "That man is a true competitor and a true winner.

"When he wants it that bad, you can see it in his demeanour and see it in his walk, so it shouldn't surprise anyone. He's built for these moments."

Meanwhile, on defense, the Suns kept C.J. McCollum, Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas to a combined 22-of-63 from the floor.

"We were just connected," Paul said. "We were making it tough on C.J., same thing with BI [Ingram] and closing out to their shooters. We were just on a string.

"I think a lot of times people think about our offense and how we move the ball and stuff, but our defense is what we really sort of hang our hats on."

The Los Angeles Clippers will play no part in this year's playoffs, but coach Ty Lue still believes they "can be special" next season.

The Clippers finished eighth in the West to enter the Play-In tournament, only to fall short of the postseason with consecutive defeats.

After losing 109-104 to the Minnesota Timberwolves with Paul George in the lineup, the seven-time All-Star was in health and safety protocols for Friday's make-or-break 105-101 defeat at home to the New Orleans Pelicans.

George's absence was a cruel blow for the Clippers, not that playing without him is a new experience.

Injury limited George to 31 games this year – in which he averaged a team-leading 24.3 points – but that was 31 more games than the team got out of two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who is still recovering from a partial ACL tear in last season's playoff run.

Even Norman Powell, signed in February, suffered a setback and could play only limited minutes in a bench role after returning ahead of the play-in games.

Since the Clippers signed George and Leonard ahead of the 2019-20 season, they have played together in only 104 games across the regular season and playoffs.

The Clippers have a 72-32 (.692) record in those games, versus 83-71 (.539) in the 154 when one of their superstars is missing.

For that reason, Lue can retain some optimism as they hope to have Leonard back for 2022-23.

"We get our main guys back, we can be dangerous," he said after the Pelicans game. "Health is part of it. We've got to stay healthy, continue to work.

"When you get Kawhi back, a top-five player, PG, a perennial All-Star, your team changes tremendously.

"Guys who have taken on bigger roles this year, who have never been in this position before, they can kind of fall back into their original roles.

"We could be very different with those two guys back and healthy. We can be special."

The Pelicans have themselves missed a big name this year, with former first overall pick Zion Williamson joining Leonard in sitting out the entire season to date.

In his stead, C.J. McCollum and, particularly in the play-in tournament, Brandon Ingram have stepped up to lead the Pelicans into a first-round series against title favourites the Phoenix Suns.

Ingram has averaged 18.5 points per game for his career and 22.7 in the regular season this year but 28.5 across play-in wins over the San Antonio Spurs and the Clippers.

His 30 led the team on Friday, prompting high praise from coach Willie Green.

"Brandon Ingram is the truth," Green said. "He just brought it. He had that look in his eye from the time we got on the plane. Shootaround, he's been locked in. He has been waiting for this moment, for this type of moment."

The New Orleans Pelicans have appointed former Phoenix Suns assistant Willie Green as their new head coach.

Green's appointment was delayed due to his commitments with Phoenix, who made it to the NBA Finals before Giannis Antetokounmpo ended their hopes to claim Milwaukee Bucks' first title since 1971.

Before joining the 2021 Western Conference champions, Green enjoyed a three-year spell at the Golden State Warriors, where he worked as an assistant coach under Steve Kerr as they won back-to-back NBA Championships in 2017 and 2018.

Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin praised Green for his "tireless work ethic and authenticity of character" as he announced the new head coach on Thursday.

"He brings a vast amount of basketball knowledge and experience to our team as both a coach and former player, along with exceptional leadership qualities and an innate ability to connect with players, staff and fans alike," Griffin said.

"We could not be more excited to welcome Willie and his family to New Orleans."

Green spent 12 years as a player in the NBA and appeared in 731 regular season games between 2003-15, reaching the playoffs seven times.

In his previous role with Phoenix, the Suns' defensive coordinator oversaw the NBA's sixth-best defensive rating, while he worked as head coach for the NBA Summer League in 2019, where he managed a 3-1 record in Las Vegas.

"I want to thank Mrs. Benson [Pelicans governor], David Griffin and the entire Pelicans organisation for having faith in me to lead this talented group of players moving forward," Green added.

"It's a blessing and an honour to get this opportunity in a special place like New Orleans. I look forward to getting to work and immersing myself and my family into the local community."

Green takes over from Stan Van Gundy, who mutually agreed to leave the Pelicans despite spending just the one year in charge.

Van Gundy's side disappointed last campaign as they went 31-41 to quash any playoffs hopes they may have had at the start of the year.

Green, who becomes the third-youngest coach in the NBA, may now look to build his team around first-round NBA 2019 Draft pick Zion Williamson, who has endured a tumultuous start to life in New Orleans.

 

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