NBA playoffs

Thunder up: Young OKC proves worth as No. 1 seed, sweeps veteran Pelicans 4-0


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Thunder up: Young OKC proves worth as No. 1 seed, sweeps veteran Pelicans 4-0

THUNDER UP. Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) gestures after scoring against the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of game two of the first round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

NBA MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leads the Oklahoma City Thunder anew to a first-round playoff sweep of the New Orleans Pelicans

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jalen Williams scored 24 points each, Gilgeous-Alexander added 10 rebounds and the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder completed a first-round playoff sweep of the New Orleans Pelicans with a 97-89 victory on Monday (Tuesday, April 30, Manila time).

Williams put up eight of his points during a pivotal 10-0 fourth-quarter run for the top-seeded Thunder, who advance to face either the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers or the fifth-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference semifinals.

Oklahoma City’s Chet Holmgren and Josh Giddey scored 14 apiece and Luguentz Dort contributed 11.

“Our energy, focus, commitment and togetherness were all on display,” said Thunder coach Mark Daigneault. “We had never been here. I was curious to see which version of ourselves we would get and we were very much in character.

“It was just a great defensive series by everyone that stepped on the court. I thought throughout the series our defense was consistent. We didn’t allow even parts of games to get away from us.

CJ McCollum registered 20 points, Jonas Valanciunas had 19 points and 13 rebounds, Naji Marshall scored 16 and Herb Jones 11 to lead the eighth-seeded Pelicans, who didn’t score more than 92 points in any game of the series.

“For four games we struggled offensively,” said Pelicans coach Willie Green. “Our defense held us together, but we just didn’t make shots that we normally make.

“We worked our tails off to put ourselves in this position. Our goals were to go farther, but sometimes this happens. You have to learn from it, but it’s going to take a while to process it. I know we had a really good season and we’ve improved each of the last three years so I know we’re heading in the right direction.”

Brandon Ingram shot 2-for-14 from the floor and finished with eight points for New Orleans, which was missing injured leading scorer Zion Williamson throughout the series.

Oklahoma City hit 42.7 percent from the floor while limiting New Orleans to 37.6 percent shooting. The Pelicans were 8 of 34 (23.5 percent) from long distance while the Thunder made 12 of 40 (30 percent) from beyond the arc.

There were 11 lead changes and seven ties in the third quarter of Game 4. Gilgeous-Alexander made a free throw for a 64-63 Thunder lead before Marshall answered with a 3-pointer.

Oklahoma City scored the next six points before Marshall hit another 3-pointer and Ingram made two free throws to give the Pelicans a 71-70 lead at the end of the third period.

New Orleans scored the first four points of the fourth quarter and led by five two more times before Holmgren made a basket and Giddey added two 3-pointers that gave the Thunder an 83-80 lead with 7:19 to go.

McCollum scored from the lane, but Gilgeous-Alexander answered with a layup and Williams scored the next eight points for a 93-82 edge with 3:08 left.

“Our whole team came out and competed,” said Dort on Bally Sports Oklahoma. “We got the stops we needed and we made some big shots. It feels good. We’ve got more.”

Earlier, the Thunder led by as many as five points on two occasions before Marshall made a layup that produced the game’s fifth tie at 21 at the end of the first quarter.

Aaron Wiggins broke one of five second-quarter ties and scored five straight points as Oklahoma City matched its biggest lead at 32-27. The Thunder led by five again before Trey Murphy III’s 3-pointer pulled New Orleans into a 40-40 tie.

In the last minute of the half, Holmgren and Dort each made a field goal before Murphy scored as the Thunder took a 44-43 lead into the break. –

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