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The Thunder Survived A Scare To Get A Game 1 Win Over The Pelicans

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The Oklahoma City Thunder put together a phenomenal and surprising season to earn the 1-seed in the Western Conference, but for just about the entire roster, the playoffs were an unknown territory. Their first round matchup is with the New Orleans Pelicans, and the two teams lived up to their billing as defensive-minded teams in the opener, as the Thunder escaped with a 94-92 Game 1 win in an absolute rock fight in OKC.

Offense was hard to come by all night for both teams, as the Thunder shot 43.5 percent from the field and 31.3 percent from three, which was better than New Orleans’ 38.5/28.2 shooting split on the evening. The way the Pelicans hung in the game was on the offensive glass (18 offensive boards to eight from OKC), where they dominated early to get second chance opportunities and also limited the Thunder’s ability to push the pace in transition.

The two teams were tied at 43 after two quarters, as there were playoff jitters from both teams on offense as well as just some incredible defensive lineups thrown out there by both coaches. The second half saw the Thunder look like they were getting set to run away, as a Chet Holmgren three in the fourth quarter put OKC up by 10 with 10 minutes to play.

However, the Pelicans had a response, as they whittled away at the lead in the middle of the quarter, with CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram finally finding a little life to give the Pelicans a 90-88 lead.

The game got funky and tense from there. It started with a horrific challenge by the Mark Daigneault turning a jump ball between Holmgren and Larry Nance Jr. into the Pelicans ball. However, he got bailed out by a Holmgren block that kept the deficit at just two.

From there, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who had an off night to his standards to that point, took over and reminded everyone why he’s a finalist for MVP and Clutch Player of the Year. First, he tied the game with a pull-up over Herb Jones.

New Orleans followed that up with a possession in which they grabbed four offensive rebounds, but followed each of them with an increasingly difficult shot before the Thunder finally gained possession themselves. The Thunder got the ball to SGA on a switch against McCollum, and he put in a go-ahead and-1 bucket.

That proved to be the difference in the game. A McCollum midrange bucket was followed up by Holmgren splitting free throws, leaving the Pelicans with 14 seconds left to draw up a game-tying shot or a game-winner. New Orleans opted to let McCollum go to work, but he go clamped up by Cason Wallace and could only muster a running three (that was, to his credit, on line) after getting the ball poked away.

After a day of blowouts, the tension of this game down the stretch was a welcome sight. It was what playoff basketball is supposed to be, especially between two teams still very new to this stage. Neither looked particularly comfortable, but both had their moments of brilliance in a physical, grind-it-out affair.

Gilgeous-Alexander finished with a game-high 28 points, while Holmgren added 15 points, 11 boards, and five blocks, and Jalen Williams gave OKC a jolt with 19 points. On the other side, it was Trey Murphy III that had the high scoring mark with 21 points, including 5-of-12 from three (no one else made more than two). McCollum finished with 20 points but needed 22 shots to get there, while Ingram had just 12 points on 17 attempts, as Luguentz Dort gave him fits all night.

It’ll be interesting to see what adjustments come out of this game from both teams. The Pelicans will feel like they’ve got a great defensive gameplan, but will have to figure out how to get Ingram and McCollum freed up a bit more from the Thunder’s own lockdown defenders. OKC, meanwhile, will look to get better three-point shooting and could make some rotation adjustments to get more floor-spacing out there. Truly, whichever team figures out how to keep their defensive intensity high while calming things down on offense will gain an upper had, as it was a bit sloppy for both sides.