NBA playoffs

‘Uncommon maturity, poise’: Thunder near sweep of Pelicans


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‘Uncommon maturity, poise’: Thunder near sweep of Pelicans

FACE-OFF. Pelicans guard Trey Murphy III (left) handles the ball against Thunder guard Luguentz Dort in Game 3.

Matt Bush/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

‘We just try to clear the hurdle that's in front of us,’ says Thunder coach Mark Daigneault as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and his crew inch closer to a quick first-round disposal of the Pelicans

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 24 points and the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder took a 3-0 series lead by routing the New Orleans Pelicans, 106-85, on Saturday, April 27 (Sunday, April 28, Manila time).

Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams added 21 points each and Luguentz Dort had 12 for the No. 1 seed Thunder, who will try to complete a sweep of the Western Conference first-round series Monday night, April 29, in New Orleans.

“We just try to clear the hurdle that’s in front of us. We’ve been that way all along, not just this season,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. 

“I think [the Thunder players] have uncommon maturity, poise, competitiveness and togetherness – and that gives you confidence when you’re under stress and when you’re on the road.”

Oklahoma City, which won Game 2 by 32 points after a two-point win in the opener, took the lead for good in the first quarter against the cold-shooting eighth-seeded Pelicans.

Brandon Ingram scored 19 points, CJ McCollum had 16, Herb Jones added 15, and Trey Murphy III chipped in 10 for the Pelicans. 

New Orleans’ offense continued to struggle in the absence of injured leading scorer Zion Williamson. The Pelicans fell short of the 92 points they scored in each of the first two losses, shooting just 38.1% from the floor and 28.1% on three-pointers.

“We hang our hats on that end of the floor (defense). We’ve got great defenders on this team that execute,” Giddey said. “Eight-five points in a playoff game is a very winnable score.”

Ingram made a jumper and McCollum followed with a three-pointer to start the third-quarter scoring and pull the Pelicans within 9 points.

But Chet Holmgrem, Dort and Giddey each made a three-pointer to push the lead to 69-53. McCollum twice made a basket to trim the lead to 10 points, but the Thunder made three triples to extend the lead to 85-69 at the end of the third quarter.

Oklahoma City scored the first 7 points of the fourth quarter to push the lead to 23 as New Orleans didn’t score until nearly four minutes had elapsed.

“Right now our mindset has to be that we’re willing to take a chance and try some things we haven’t tried before and see if that can spark us,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. 

“The turnovers and lack of confidence in our shot, even with open looks, hurt. It’s been difficult for us to score points. We’ve got to understand that the weight of the world isn’t on our shots.

“They’re a good defensive team for a reason. To beat them we have to be really sound offensively.”

Early on, Jaylin Williams scored 5 points during a 10-3 run that gave Oklahoma City a 21-14 lead. McCollum made a floater for his only field goal in eight first-quarter attempts as New Orleans closed within 23-19 to start the second quarter.

Naji Marshall, Jones and Murphy each made a three-pointer to help the Pelicans creep within 40-39.

Gilgeous-Alexander made one three-pointer and Dort made three straight during a 14-0 run that expanded the Thunder lead to 15 points. McCollum scored New Orleans’ last 5 points, but Oklahoma City held a 60-46 halftime lead. –

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