NEW ORLEANS -- As the clocked ticked down Sunday afternoon, the chants of "Jose, Jose, Jose" reigned down from all corners of the Smoothie King Center.
The New Orleans Pelicans faithful were showing their love for their cult hero, Jose Alvarado. Just minutes before, as the former undrafted player walked off the floor, his teammate Larry Nance Jr. implored the crowd to get louder. They happily obliged as Alvarado walked off to a standing ovation.
All of it was well deserved as Alvarado scored a career-high 38 points while hitting a career-best eight 3-pointers to lift the Pelicans to a 121-106 victory over the Denver Nuggets. It was New Orleans' fourth straight win and vaulted them past Denver in the standings for No. 2 in the Western Conference.
Alvarado became a fan favorite with his defensive play, including sneaking up on unsuspecting opponents during inbounds plays. A clip of D'Angelo Russell asking if he could shoot went viral with Alvarado's "yes, I can shoot" response. But this was everything about Alvarado coming together when the Pelicans needed it most -- and the fans appreciated every minute of it.
"It's amazing," Alvarado said. "Like, it could never get old. It is my second year and every time they scream out 'Jose' and do the chant or just show me so much love, it keeps giving me goosebumps. And it makes me want to keep playing as hard as I can."
New Orleans signed Alvarado as an undrafted free agent after last year's draft and Alvarado wasn't even starting for the Pelicans' summer league team in 2021. After some trips to the G League last season, Alvarado slowly started to carve out a role for the Pelicans, where his status among the fans continued to grow.
According to ESPN Stats and Information research, Alvarado's 38 points were the most ever scored by an undrafted player coming off the bench in an NBA game since starters were first tracked in 1970-71. It was also the most by an undrafted player in Pelicans franchise history -- starter or reserve -- and the most by any reserve in Pelicans history, drafted or undrafted.
"Y'all see the energy he brings," Pelicans forward Zion Williamson said. "Like, he just had 38 and it's not like we're telling him, 'Jose don't shoot.'
"I tell him all the time, 'Jose, be yourself. When you be yourself, you are our X factor.' You can be bringing energy, we need runs, you're there for us."
When Alvarado checked in for the first time Sunday in the middle of a pair of Nikola Jokic free throws, the Nuggets were up 29-16 before Jokic added another to push the lead to 14. That was the largest it got for Denver. The Pelicans went on a 20-4 run over the next 4 minutes, 30 seconds and Alvarado had 14 of those points.
The impact Alvarado had was immediate and his energy was something the Pelicans fed off of the rest of the game.
"Very rarely is there a day that Jose doesn't come in and do what he does," Pelicans coach Willie Green said. "What he did tonight, he does that in practice, shootarounds, walkthroughs, film. That's just who he is. And it was a joy to watch."
Alvarado had 19 points in the first half and didn't check back in until there were 46 seconds left in the third quarter. But when the fourth quarter started he picked up where he left off, scoring 19 more points. His career high at Georgia Tech was 29 and his previous NBA high was 23. When asked when the last time he scored 38 points in any game, Alvarado had to think.
"I don't remember, man," Alvarado said. "My thing is not to go out there and be a big scorer. But today my teammate found me wide open. I didn't do nothing extra. I knocked down shots. For me, I think it's been a very long time since I had 38. Actually, I don't even know if I ever had 38 now that I'm thinking about it. But this will be the one I remember."
Nuggets coached Michael Malone was ejected after picking up two technical fouls with 2:03 left in the fourth quarter. Alvarado knocked down both free throws to push his total to 38.
For the next minute, his teammates were out to get him 40. Alvarado, in the flow of the game, was passing up some opportunities before his teammates force fed the ball back to him. He missed a short jumper in the lane and had a layup blocked at the rim before Green took him out with just under a minute to go.
"[My teammates] kept telling me two more, three more, and then I got tired a little bit and I thought I had the layup but it is what it is," Alvarado said. "But 38 and the win, I'll take it. Can't beat that."