2024 Playoffs: West First Round | Thunder (1) vs. Pelicans (8)

Thunder-Pelicans: 5 takeaways as Oklahoma City rolls in Game 2

Chet Holmgren goes toe-to-toe with Jonas Valanciunas and Oklahoma City fixes its rebounding issues in the Game 2 rout.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's 33 helps Thunder cruise in Game 2

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OKLAHOMA CITY — One sign that it was Oklahoma City’s night emerged in the first half, when a fan splashed a half-court shot to fatten his wallet with $20,000, courtesy of MidFirst Bank.

The bucket marked the second made $20,000 shot in two postseason games here at Paycom Center. So, it’s no surprise the Thunder proved to be money Wednesday in cashing a 124-92 victory over New Orleans in Game 2 of the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored a postseason career-high 33 points, and rookie Chet Holmgren added 26 to help OKC hand the Pelicans their second-most lopsided loss of the season behind the 133-89 debacle suffered at the In-Season Tournament. The win marked the Thunder’s third in a row over New Orleans.

Here are five takeaways from the matchup:

1. Jonas Valanciunas’ fast start fizzles

Valanciunas bludgeoned OKC in the paint throughout Game 1.

So, why not increase the dosage to start Game 2?

Valanciunas attacked hard early, reeling off New Orleans’ first 11 points, imposing heightened physicality against Holmgren, who appeared unfazed. Taking a feed inside from Herbert Jones on the Pelicans’ first possession, Valanciunas spun past Holmgren for a reverse layup to start the game.

Fouled by Jalen Williams on the play, Valanciunas swished the free throw.

Valanciunas was 5-for-6 to start, but early success proved fleeting with the Thunder outscoring New Orleans 23-8 to close the quarter. OKC pulled away on the strength of seven 3-pointers and scored eight points off turnovers.

Valanciunas produced a team-high 15 points in the first half with five rebounds but would add just four more points the entire second half.

New Orleans’ early approach made sense, but OKC’s 3-point shooting made it impossible for the Pelicans to keep up. The Pels shot 7-for-26 from 3-point range to run its four-game postseason total (if you count the Play-In Tournament) to 34-for-114.

This from a team that made 49.6% from deep in the last three games of the regular season.

2. Chet Holmgren starts faster, maintains the momentum

Chet Holmgren's versatility leads Thunder's Game 2 attack

Valanciunas’ early physicality perhaps only stoked Holmgren’s competitive fire because the rookie lit up New Orleans for 15 points on 5-for-5 shooting in the first quarter despite all the pushing and shoving in the paint.

Repeated Valanciunas elbows and shoulders into the chest lifted Holmgren off his feet little by little, scooting the rookie under the hoop while the Pelicans vet backed in like a dump truck. Once there, Valanciunas found mostly misses.

The Pelicans center was 1-for-3 in the second quarter and Holmgren swatted away one of those shots after that initial 5-for-7 onslaught.

Holmgren didn’t wilt and established himself in the first quarter, too. He was 3-for-3 on 3-pointers and 2-for-2 from the line, adding two rebounds and an assist.

Holmgren and Gilgeous-Alexander combined in the first half for 36 points on 14-for-21 shooting. Holmgren poured in a game-high 20 points over that span as OKC shot 59.5% overall and 55.6% on 3-pointers.

OKC’s 63-50 lead at intermission could’ve been even larger considering New Orleans’ top offensive weapon — Brandon Ingram — finished the half with more turnovers (three) than field goal attempts (two).

Ingram has scored less than 20 points in four of his last five games since returning April 14 from a knee injury.

3. OKC improves rebounding issues

Oklahoma City rebounded majorly from a subpar night on the glass in Game 1.

The Pels outrebounded the Thunder 52-44 on Sunday, seizing an 18-8 edge on the offensive glass, which led to them outscoring OKC 24-11 in second-chance points. Remember, Valanciunas tallied more rebounds than the entire OKC roster.

This time, though, the Thunder gobbled up 37 boards compared to New Orleans’ 35. Not a huge win in that department, but a better performance than in Game 1.

OKC held a 9-8 edge Wednesday in second-chance scoring, and Holmgren tied Valanciunas for the game-high in rebounds (seven).

The Thunder often sacrifice size and rebounding for speed and transition scoring. The latter is where OKC excelled in this matchup, outscoring New Orleans 14-6 on the break. The Thunder also scored 22 points off the Pelicans’ 17 turnovers.

New Orleans finished the game with more turnovers than assists (16).

4. Zion Williamson provides an update

Injured star Zion Williamson addressed the media Tuesday after a workout at Paycom Center, calling his prospects for returning during these playoffs “absolutely realistic.”

Williamson strained his left hamstring eight days ago in the club’s loss in the SoFi Play-In Tournament to the Los Angeles Lakers. The former No. 1 overall pick sat out of New Orleans’ second Play-In game against Sacramento on Friday and missed Game 1 at OKC.

The team announced after the latest setback that Williamson would be reexamined in approximately two weeks.

He appeared to be in good spirits Tuesday after practice and explained he’ll need to pass various tests throughout a return-to-play protocol before he can rejoin teammates on the floor.

Asked about the atmosphere at Paycom Center for Game 1, Williamson cracked an uneasy smile and shook his head in regret for missing a chance to compete in his first career playoff game.

“Man, I really love hooping. So, it was bittersweet for me,” he said. “The whole time I just kept envisioning myself out there, my impact on the game. At the same time, I had to put aside my personal feelings and be there for my teammates. The energy was great. OKC’s fans really came out.”

5. Strength in numbers?

Hall of Famer Pat Riley famously described in two sentences his philosophy for coaching playoff basketball.

“You rotate eight players,” he said. “You play seven, you use six and you trust five.”

Daigneault flipped that idea on its head through the first two games of this series. The Thunder coach deployed 11 players in Game 1 with 10 of them knocking down at least one field goal and seven scoring at least one 3-pointer.

In Game 2, Daigneault used 13 players (two logged garbage-time minutes) and eight contributed at least one field goal.

In the first quarter alone on Wednesday, OKC played a total of nine with six making at least one field goal. The Thunder entered intermission having used 10 players with seven hitting at least one field goal.

Since we’re talking numbers, New Orleans’ loss to OKC marked the third 30-point loss in Pelicans playoff history. It was the worst margin of defeat in the postseason since 2009.

New Orleans has scored 92 points in each of the first two games of this series.

OKC, meanwhile, is now 14-0 this season when it holds an opponent to fewer than 100 points.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X.

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