SGA and Thunder ground Pelicans in stellar series play

Nicholas Borghini

Contributing Writer


     The Oklahoma City Thunder shut down the New Orleans Pelicans in games two and three of their best-of-seven series last week, putting themselves in prime position for a deep playoff run.

     The Thunder outscored the Pelicans 124-92 on Wednesday while all of Oklahoma City’s points were scored by players 25 years old or younger. The 32-point differential was the second-highest of this year’s playoffs, just behind the Orlando Magic’s 38-point victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers later that day.

     All-Star Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 33 points, shooting a blistering 68.4% from the field and 60% from three. Oklahoma City Center Chet Holmgren also emboldened the Thunder’s offense, scoring 15 of his 26 points in the first quarter and shooting 69% from the field.

     After the game, Holmgren took the microphone from TNT reporter Allie LaForce. “He’s too humble to say it, but this is the MVP right here,” Holmgren said with his arm around Gilgeous-Alexander’s shoulder. “MVP of the league. I’m going to say it for him because he won’t say it.” 

     On Saturday, Oklahoma City dominated their first away game of the series as they drained 17 three-pointers in New Orleans and beat the Pelicans 106-85.

     Thunder forward Luguentz Dort anticipated and blew past screens to shut down Brandon Ingram, the Pelican’s greatest offensive threat. 

     “My main thing is just to make everything tough,” Dort said after the game. “Whatever I gotta do, if it’s a crazy contest or just running by a guy, anything that I can do to mess up a shot, I’ll do it.”

     Dort’s impact was also felt on the other side of the court when he scored three three-pointers in one minute at the end of the second quarter. This coincided with a 14-0 run for the Thunder, extending their lead to 54-39. Oklahoma City then maintained at least a 10-point lead for the rest of the game, ending with a 21-point victory.

     “His matchup difficulty in the NBA has gotta be the highest,” said Thunder coach Mark Daigneault about Dort after the game. “If not, Top 5,  Top 10.”

     Thunder rookie Cason Wallace also stepped up as a pesky defender after Oklahoma City forward Jalen Williams was injured during the first possession of the game. Williams had driven to the basket and took a shot to the face when Ingram attempted to block him, sending him to the locker room. He came back in the second quarter and went on to score 21 points while grabbing nine rebounds.

     Despite scoring only six points, Holmgren was also a game-changer on defense, denying fast-break drives and offensive rebounds while garnering four blocks. 

     With Pelicans heavyweight Zion Williamson out with a left hamstring injury that he incurred during the NBA Play-In Tournament against the Los Angeles Lakers, it was easier for the Thunder to outwork New Orleans in the paint. After giving up 18 offensive rebounds in game one of the series, the Thunder held the Pelicans to 19 combined offensive boards in games two and three. 

     “We were ready to play,” Daigneault said. “Our physicality again, our defense and focus on that end of the floor was really, really good, made them earn everything. And I thought that set the tone.”

     Oklahoma City had the best three-point shooting percentage in the NBA during the regular season and continued their deep shooting dominance as they shot 47.2% from three. The Thunder also shot 48.2% from the field and held the Pelicans to a field goal percentage of 38.1 and a three-point percentage of 28.1.

     The win gave the Thunder a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series against the Pelicans, leaving Oklahoma City fans optimistic because no team has ever come back to win a playoff series after being down three games to nothing. Teams who have been in the same position have a combined record of 151-0.

     The New Orleans crowd turned into an Oklahoma City army as traveling Thunder fans started ‘OKC’ chants for the team and ‘MVP’ chants for Gilgeous-Alexander. 

     “They were amazing,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Towards the end, it felt a little bit like a home game.”

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