By Nick Gallo and Paris Lawson | okcthunder.com
Highlights: OKC 123, NOP 118
The Big Picture
Box Score: OKC 123, NOP 118
The youngest team in the NBA went on the road in a rowdy environment, fell behind by nine points early, absorbed waves of punches throughout the night and found itself in a two-possession game for the final 10 minutes of the fourth quarter. A team with an average age of 23 years and 100-something days doesn’t often stay poised and come away with a victory against a veteran team like the New Orleans Pelicans, but that’s exactly what the Thunder did on Wednesday night in the ninth-10th Western Conference play-in game.
The game had wild swings in the flow as the Pelicans hammered the offensive glass in the opening minutes, Thunder guard Lu Dort went on a scoring binge with 20 first half points, then OKC got downhill into the paint while going plus-15 on the scoreboard in the third quarter and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander got to his spots more freely.
In the fourth quarter, the Thunder once again had to parry a flurry from New Orleans in the form of a 9-2 spurt to start the final frame – a run that would have rattled most teams in OKC’s age demographic. After a timeout, the Thunder righted the ship and went back and forth with the Pelicans for the remaining 10 minutes. This game featured 13 ties and 13 lead changes, and it wasn’t until Gilgeous-Alexander drove left and hit a tough runner on the baseline with 28.3 seconds left that OKC took its final lead for good. In the closing seconds, Dort and Jaylin Williams combined to seal a defensive stand and then Josh Giddey, Dort and Gilgeous-Alexander knocked down free throws to put a bow on a 123-118 victory that will send the Thunder into the second round of the play-in tournament.
Paris: After falling behind by nine points midway through the first frame, Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault called a timeout. Coming out of the break, OKC threw a zone at the Pelicans which resulted in a missed basket by New Orleans and a 3-pointer on the other end for Dort. The basket ignited a strong 14-2 run by the Thunder fueled by its defense, stops and quick baskets on the other end. Of those 14 points, five of them came on the fast break, an area the Thunder took advantage of through the entire frame. The Thunder also worked to quell one of the Pelicans’ most viable sources of offense – the second chances. OKC gave up 10 second chance points in the first six minutes of action. For the rest of the quarter, OKC didn’t allow one. Just two and a half minutes after the Thunder’s timeout, Pelicans’ head coach Willie Green was forced to call a timeout of his own after a missed shot from Kira Lewis Jr. resulted in a stop and pop 3-pointer in transition by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander gave the Thunder its first lead of the game at 24-21 and momentum to carry through the rest of the frame.
Nick: The Thunder knew coming into this game it would need to leverage New Orleans’ aggressiveness against them with secondary playmaking. The ever-aggressive Lu Dort was primed and ready to attack quickly against closeouts, using immediate dribbles to the rim to generate six points on drives alone in the first six minutes of action. When the Pelicans closed out short to Dort, the Thunder’s defensive ace was also ready to catch and shoot, as he knocked down a catch and shoot corner 3 and then another 3 off a rhythm dribble. In the first quarter alone, Dort scored 14 points on 4-for-5 shooting, and for the game he scored 27 points on 8-of-14 from the field.
Nick: To beat a New Orleans defense that has great length and recovery ability, the Thunder needed to be able to stretch the floor with shooting. In the first half alone, OKC knocked down eight 3-pointers, including four from Dort as well as two from Josh Giddey. On a baseline out of bounds play, Mark Daigneault yelled out a play from the sideline and one of the NBA’s best sharpshooters all year, Isaiah Joe, got into position. Running off a pair of screens, Joe found an opening on the left wing and Josh Giddey found him right in the shooting pocket for a catch-and-shoot three, which Joe swished.
Paris: After a missed shot from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jaxson Hayes pulled down what he thought would be an uncontested rebound. However, lurking right behind Hayes was Aaron Wiggins who sneakily snatched the ball away from Hayes and quickly put up the layup as Hayes desperately tried to claw the ball back. The bucket resulted in an and-one basket for Wiggins and a great example of how the Thunder has been able to scrap and fight for its looks throughout the night. The Pelicans racked up 15 second chance points in the first half, and while that would be a massive number in most games, the Thunder neutralized the extra points with 13 second chance points of its own to go along with nine points off the Pelicans turnovers.
Paris: SGA attacked the middle of the floor using a series of hesitations and between-the-leg dribbles before hitting a spin and to finishing a high-level scoop layup through contact at the rim. The play didn’t result in a foul call, but it did force the Pelicans to burn a timeout after Gilgeous-Alexander’s outburst at the start of the third. OKC’s all-star posted a relatively quiet first half with just seven points but erupted out of intermission with 10 quick points in the first six minutes of action going a perfect 4-of-4 from the field during the span. SGA posted 17 total points in the third and finished the night with a game-high 32 points to go along with three steals, five rebounds and three assists.
Nick: While OKC was able to knock down shots from the outside in the first half, the Thunder got back to its bread and butter in the paint in the third quarter. After heading into the half trailing 32-22 in the paint, OKC outscored the Pelicans 24-10 in the third quarter alone. Gilgeous-Alexander, who came out of the halftime locker room early to get as much warmup time as he possibly could, attacked the rim relentlessly and used his craftiness to score. Josh Giddey used his size and physicality to get through and shoot over the top of defenders, including an and-one layup over the 7-foot Jaxson Hayes. The sequence that stood out though was after a missed three by Jalen Williams, his fellow rookie Jaylin Williams chased down the loose rebound, then immediately looked for a cutter and found Jalen diving to the rim. Jalen finished with a lefty layup without ever having to bring the ball back over to his right hand, a bucket which also helped Jaylin rack up one of what would be a career-high eight assists.
Nick: The Thunder is built on trust both on the defensive end to know that your teammate has your back in help and on offense to make the extra pass. As the ball swung around the top of the key, a Pelicans defender closed out to Josh Giddey and the 20-year-old Australian swung the ball one more time instinctively to the right wing into the hands of Jaylin Williams. Despite going 0-for-6 from three to start the game, Giddey and the Thunder had trust in JWill – a 40-percent 3-point shooter this season. Not only did Giddey make the extra pass, but Williams didn’t hesitate at all to take the shot. After all, his teammates had been encouraging him all night to continue shooting and fortunately he kept listening, because that 3 put OKC up 106-104 in a tight game that went down to the wire. In the closing moments, Williams also factored heavily into a crucial defensive stop as he came over to help shade Brandon Ingram on a double team, then recovered back into the lane to snap up the defensive rebound. For the game, Williams finished with eight points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
Paris: Josh Giddey was all over the floor for the Thunder against the Pelicans. Whether it was making his presence known on the glass, dishing out extra passes or getting to the rim, Giddey made a strong impact in multiple areas of the game. The second year guard played a massive role in the Thunder’s ability to get up the floor quickly, even on made baskets. After a made basket by Naji Marshall on one end, Giddey was quickly up the floor finishing a layup on the other end before the Pelicans’ defense could get back and set. For the night, Giddey finished with a game-high and career-high-tying 31 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds on 11-of-22 from the field.
Quotes of the Night
"Great 48 minute effort out of the team. Great poise. New Orleans made a couple of big runs at the end of the second and then the beginning of the fourth and I thought our guys just had a great temperament in the huddles and got back to our stuff. We weren't perfect tonight, but we got back to our habits and it was a great effort out of the team." –Coach Daigneault
"Credit to the group. It was a resilient night. They kept making runs, they kept going in front with a couple of minutes left, but we stuck with it and grinded it out. A big win in a tough environment to play in." –Josh Giddey
“We knew this time of year it was going to be a 48-minute basketball game. Both teams are going to want the game extremely bad and it came down to habits and and making plays.” –Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
The Thunder will immediately fly to Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves in Friday’s final play-in game. A win would earn the Thunder the eight spot in the Western Conference playoff standings and a first-round matchup with the Denver Nuggets.
Great Effort, Temperament for 48
By Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder