Thunder outlasts Pelicans in a play-in thriller

After the Bulls advanced against Miami in the East’s last play-in game on Friday after a slugfest in Toronto, the Thunder and Pelicans produced a much more pleasing aesthetic in the nightcap of the 9-10 showdowns.

The two rising sides went back and forth, trading leads after each of the first three quarters. After a quick start from New Orleans, OKC capitalized on a slight advantage after the first quarter thanks to a hot shooting start from Luguentz Dort as he caught fire from deep and scored 20 of his 27 in the first half.

The Pelicans stormed back in the second quarter and took a six-point lead at the break. Brandon Ingram was the leader as ever, but it was really Jonas Valanciunas who got his way from within as he finished with 16 points and 18 rebounds and Herbert Jones and Trey Murphy III fell loose, tipping the scales in New Orleans’ favour.

In the third quarter, Josh Giddey and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander began to seep as the Thunder turned the game around and went into the fourth quarter nine points clear while the OKC backcourt duo wreaked havoc on the Pelicans defense.

The Pelicans quickly closed the gap again to start the fourth and towards the end of the quarter the two teams traded blows with the top stars taking center stage. Ingram got to work in midfield, as he often does, ignoring some great defenses from Dort and the rest of the Thunder to put down some incredibly tough buckets.

SGA had the answers, however, as he also showed off his shooting prowess over Jones’ similarly sticky defense.

After a crucial stop, the Thunder tried to keep the Pelicans within range at the free-throw line and keep New Orleans from getting a three-pointer. They were successful for a while, long enough to build a 4-point advantage, but Ingram made things very interesting with a wild three that he felt should have been a 4-point play opportunity.

Unfortunately, after two SGA free throws put it back into a three-point game with 2.8 seconds left, the Pelicans threw away the inbound pass as Herbert Jones wasn’t on the same side as CJ McCollum and took away a chance at a last breath to tie three things.

It was a spectacular match featuring two of the game’s brightest young stars and plenty of role players stepping up to hit big shots and make big plays consistently. Ingram finished the night with 30 points, seven assists and six rebounds in the loss, with Murphy and Jones averaging 41 as they both got strong offensively, along with the aforementioned double-double from Valanciunas. However, it wasn’t quite enough to stave off 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 needed support to OKC to lift a showdown in Minnesota for the 8 seeds.

Jaclyn Diaz

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