On Wednesday evening, the New Orleans Pelicans are hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder in Louisiana for the play-in tournament.
For the game, both teams have finalized their injury reports and starting lineups.
The Thunder have ruled out Kenrich Williams, Oliver Sarr, Aleksej Pokusevski, Chet Holmgren and Jared Butler.
“To start the game, I wasn’t expecting a huge outburst offensively,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “I wanted to kind of set the table to make sure my teammates were ready to go, confident and attacking. And I knew once I did that, the defense would have to worry about them as well and my offensive game would open up.”
Gilgeous-Alexander scored 25 of his 32 points after halftime, including a go-ahead baseline jumper and four clutch free throws in the final 29 seconds, and Oklahoma City beat the Pelicans 123-118 on Wednesday night to remain alive in the Western Conference play-in tournament.
The Thunder All-Star’s repertoire included spinning dribble drives, varying mid-range jumpers, and a 3-pointer as he once again shot 50% (11 of 22) to match his season average.
Giddey had 31 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds for Oklahoma City (41-42), the only Western Conference team still playing with a losing record.
“We did a great job of not getting rattled” after Brandon Ingram’s putback dunk gave the Pelicans a 110-108 lead, Giddey said. “Nothing ever phased us. It’s such a young group, but it’s such a composed team and that’s how you have to be down the stretch of tight games like that.”
The loss eliminated the ninth-seeded Pelicans, while 10th seed Oklahoma City advanced to play at Minnesota on Friday night for the right to enter the NBA playoffs as an eighth seed and meet No. 1 Denver.
Ingram scored 20 of his 30 points in the second half, including a 3-pointer with 4.3 seconds left to give the Pelicans a slim chance to come back.
But after Gilgeous-Alexander hit two free throws to put the Thunder up by three, Herbert Jones threw away an inbound pass, sealing New Orleans’ fate.
Zion Williamson Could Have Helped
Five points from Zion could have been all that was needed to save the Pelicans.
New Orleans led 63-57 at the half behind balanced scoring. But Oklahoma City outscored the Pelicans, 39-24, in the third period to take a 96-87 lead entering the fourth quarter.
The Pelicans quickly erased that and took a 101-100 lead with 7:59 left.
Diar DeRozan with the assist
DeRozan, who spent his first nine seasons with the Raptors, brought his daughter, Diar DeRozan, to the game to cheer on his Bulls. She had premium baseline seats under the basket, and used them to Chicago’s advantage. As the Scotiabank Centre home crowd went silent for Raptors free throws, Diar let out a scream to distract Toronto’s shooters.
She did this for each of Toronto’s 36 free throws. The Raptors shot well below their season-long rate of 78.4% at the stripe, proving costly at the end.
DeRozan tallied 23 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks against his former Raptors team that traded him to the Spurs in 2018 in the deal that sent Kawhi Leonard to Toronto.
“I think you guys could tell we were ready to play out the double-teams and try to make them pay every time,” he said.
Gilgeous-Alexander has played in 13 career playoff games, including a seven-game series in the bubble with the Thunder in 2020. After that season, the team shifted into a rebuild, trading away Chris Paul to the Phoenix Suns.
Oklahoma City went 22-50 in 2020-21 and then 24-58 last season. Many expected the Thunder to be near the bottom of the standings again, especially when No. 2 overall pick Chet Holmgren was ruled out for the season because of a Lisfranc injury in his right foot.
Instead, Gilgeous-Alexander was key to lifting his team to a 40-42 record and the No. 10 seed in the play-in tournament. Giddey said Gilgeous-Alexander’s example and poise in the first half, when the Thunder fell behind early by nine in the first quarter, helped lead the way the rest of the night.
Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said that sometimes players who are as good as Gilgeous-Alexander try to force things and get “hasty” early in the game in must-win situations.
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