After a slugfest in Toronto saw the Bulls advance to Friday’s final Play-In game in the East against Miami, the Thunder and Pelicans produced a much more enjoyable aesthetic in the nightcap of the 9-10 showdowns.
The two up-and-coming squads went back-and-forth, trading leads after each of the first three quarters. After a quick start from New Orleans, OKC took a slight advantage after the first quarter thanks to a hot shooting start from Luguentz Dort, as he caught fire from deep, scoring 20 of his 27 in the first half.
The Pelicans stormed back in the second quarter to take a six-point advantage at the break. Brandon Ingram was leading the way as always, but it was really Jonas Valanciunas asserting his will inside, as he finished with 16 points and 18 rebounds, and Herbert Jones and Trey Murphy III getting loose that tilted the scales in New Orleans’ favor,
In the third quarter, Josh Giddey and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander started to percolate, as the Thunder flipped the game to take a nine-point lead into the fourth quarter, as OKC’s backcourt duo wreaking havoc on the Pelicans defense.
The Pelicans would quickly close the gap down again to start the fourth, and late in the quarter the two teams traded blows, with the top stars taking center stage in the duel. Ingram, as he so often does, went to work in the midrange, disregarding some terrific defense from Dort and the rest of the Thunder to knock down some incredibly tough buckets.
However, SGA had the answers, as he likewise showed off his shot-making chops over similarly sticky defense from Jones.
After getting a crucial stop, the Thunder found themselves trying to keep the Pelicans at arm’s reach at the free throw line and by keeping New Orleans from getting off threes. They succeeded for awhile, long enough to build a 4-point edge, but Ingram made things very interesting with a wild three that he felt should’ve been a four-point play opportunity.
Unfortunately, after a pair of SGA free throws made it a three-point game again with 2.8 seconds left, the Pelicans threw the inbounds pass away, as Herbert Jones wasn’t on the same page with CJ McCollum, taking away a chance at a last gasp three to tie things.
It was a spectacular game featuring two of the games brightest young stars and plenty of role players stepping up to hit big shots and make big plays throughout. Ingram finished the night with 30 points, seven assists, and six rebounds in the loss, with Murphy and Jones combining for 41 as they each stepped up in big ways offensively, along with the aforementioned double-double from Valanciunas. However, it just wasn’t quite enough to take down the Thunder’s onslaught from Gilgeous-Alexander (32 points, five rebounds, three assists) and Giddey (31 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds), with Dort’s 27 points providing the support needed to lift OKC to a showdown in Minnesota for the 8-seed.