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Thunder claw past Pelicans, notch three-game win streak in 108-100 thriller

With Oklahoma City and New Orleans entering Wednesday evening at the back-end of the Western Conference, the Thunder took home the victory in the battle of the bottom-dwellers 108-100. For the Thunder, the win marks their first three-game streak since January 10, 2021, now pivoting to a 4-6 record on the season. As for the Pelicans, their loss hands the group another bump in the road as they now sit at the bottom of the standings at 1-11.

With the Pelicans missing the services of Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, Mark Daigneault opted to play big, inserting former Pelicans center Derrick Favors to open the contest. The shaking of the lineup paid its dividends. Revved by a Darius Bazley right corner three, a Derrick Favors mid-range pop off of a high-ball screen, and a Lu Dort trifecta — the Thunder snagged an 8-0 lead in the first two-and-a-half minutes of play. Following New Orleans’ first grazing of the board, Josh Giddey found Darius Bazley under the rim off a top-of-the-key drive resulting in an interior bounce pass. Oklahoma City’s grasp on the game held strong going into the game’s first stoppage as with the Pelicans opening with a 3-of-11 cold spell, the Thunder mounted a 13-7 advantage nearing the six-minute mark, limiting points to strictly Jonas Valanciunas — finding the Pels’ first seven tallies. As the game returned to play, the Pelicans began to outsource points beyond Jonas Valanciunas, but, in the case of the Thunder, they continued to spread the — scoring off of a Darius Bazley baseline jumper and a Lu Dort left-wing triple for an 18-10 lead. New Orleans bounced back into play with the deficit, stringing up seven-consecutive points catered by two Devonte Graham triples. The Thunder dished up a 4-0 response to extend their lead to five, but the Pelicans flew right back into action, posting five points straight to tie the game at 22. Tre Mann pushed Oklahoma City back on the high side with his first basket since assignment, only for the Pelicans to match him a play later. The Thunder and Pelicans engaged in a trio of game ties until New Orleans soared out front, finding Jonas Valanciunas on an and-one conversion. To close the frame, the Pelicans stayed on the high side 29-28. 

The first quarter revolved around playing through stars as Lu Dort and Darius Bazley placed 17 of the Thunder’s 28 points in the frame while the pairing of Jonas Valanciunas and Devonte Graham ran up 22 of the team’s 29 quarter points.

The Pelicans continued to thump the Thunder through their interior play to kick off the second quarter, harvesting six of their first eight points in the paint for a 39-31 lead four minutes off a 10-2 stretch. With Oklahoma City’s back against the wall, they responded — shipping out 13-straight as the induction of Mike Muscala frazzled the Pelicans’ frontcourt, yielding the big man a top-of-the-key triple while irking New Orleans en route to two technical fouls, one of which came from Valanciunas. The feisty play continued throughout the frame as a controversial loose ball foul on Josh Hart pushed the guard to jaw at the officiating crew, resulting in an ejection, and two made Thunder free throws. Fans in attendance rallied around Hart, bursting out in “refs you suck” chants while clamouring at the officiating crew in the possessions following. Stemming off of Hart’s removal, the Thunder unleashed around the basket, pillaging in their final three conversions around the cup — ultimately finishing the half up top 56-48.

Oklahoma City shot a steady 41.3 percent (19-of-46 FG) through the first half of play, however, their 5-of-17 (29.4%) sampler from distance stunted the group from elevating into double digits. Even with the discrepancy at the perimeter, the Thunder recovered at the foul line sinking 13-of-17 (76.5%) tries at the stripe while winning the rebound battle 41-30 for extra possessions. Lu Dort dominated in the first half, trickling out a season-high of 18 points (6-of-8 FG) with still another half to go. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander struggled from the field for a 1-of-7 spell, though the Kentucky product beefed up his stat line with a 5-of-6 trial at the line.

The Pelicans made their name from the frontcourt, but once their interior walls were shattered — they were left out to dry. New Orleans posted a lowly 18-of-54 (33.3%) clip through the first half, slipping from the three for a 4-of-18 (22.2%) slump. Jonas Valanciunas churned out a one-man show in the half, ending his 19 minutes of run with 18 points (7-of-14 FG) and 7 rebounds. In Valanciunas’ best moments of the half, Oklahoma City were incapable of holding the Lithianian down around the basket.     

Oklahoma City racked up a double-digit lead to open the second half as two Derrick Favors mid-range push shots bolstered the Thunder lead to 10 to open the frame — only for a Herbert Jones and-one to downsize the deficit. The Pelicans continued to gut out the lead in the ensuing possessions, as two missed Thunder triples coupled with a team turnover paved the way for two Nickeil Alexander-Walker right-corner threes to place a 9-0 run, and force a Mark Daigneault timeout with a measly 60-59 lead. The lead swapped back-and-forth following the Thunder’s stoppage as two lead changes and ties took place in the following two minutes until a blocked dunk attempt from Darius Bazley lead to a Devonte Graham bucket on the other end for the lead. The Pelicans advantage went on to be short lived as the Thunder drew back with a Darius Bazley cut leading into a jam before a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stepback from the right corner hit strong back iron until getting a sweet roll on the basket for a four-point, 72-68 advantage with three remaining. Oklahoma City’s prominence purveyed past the timeout as the group continued their drive with respective threes from Mike Muscala, Aleksej Pokusevski, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander along with a pair of Lu Dort free throws in a two-minute span to push a 16-0 run, and a 14-point lead — their highest lead to that point of play. By the end of the period, Oklahoma City held an 85-71 advantage.

The Thunder picked right up where they left off to open the fourth as following two blocked Josh Giddey layups, the 19-year-old gunned out a bullet pass to Mike Muscala at the right wing — sticking the three ball to go up 17. Mark Daigneault called up Tre Mann in the infancy stages of the fourth quarter, and the 20-year-old delivered. In Mann’s highlight package, the rookie slashed in from the right wing, stringing together a behind-the-back move into a spin before hoisting a contested right-handed layup through contact, nailing the shot off of the glass. Oklahoma City pushed their advantage past the 20 mark as a Tre Mann layup alongside a Kenrich Williams 21-footer moved the pendulum to a 96-75 Thunder lead with seven minutes to go. New Orleans made a scare for Mark Daigneault as with the Thunder’s second unit out, the Pelicans jumped out to 10-consecutive points in three minutes, forcing Daigneault’s hand to reinstate the starters. As the game sunk below the three-minute mark, New Orleans snuck back into the conversation as a Nickeil Alexander-Walker jumper drew the game to single digits. Lu Dort extended the lead back to 11 following three free throws a possession later, however, Alexander-Walker came up big in isolation — sticking a three to keep the game at eight. Two plays later, NAW rose to the occasion for an extra three trips to the line, hitting the trio for a five-point game. In need of a bucket, the Thunder entrusted the basketball in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s hands, reaping the rewards as the 23-year-old muscled his way to a made layup across the lane to post the Thunder up seven with 51 seconds to go. New Orleans turned the game into a free-throw contest in the closing moments taking quick shots on one end before taking quick-fire shots on the offensive front, but the time was not in their favor. In the game’s exclamation mark, Oklahoma City took an inbound play the distance as Josh Giddey received the inbound before rifling a full-length pass to Lu Dort — throwing down a dunk to keep the game out of reach. At the end of the contest, Oklahoma City reigned supreme 108-100.

The ending for Oklahoma City was grisly to say the least. The Pelicans outscored the Thunder 25-14 in the final seven minutes of play, turning a 21-point, garbage time blowout into a nailbiter in the span of a few minutes.

“It was obviously a little ugly but we stuck with it,” said Daigneault. “You gotta stay aggressive but also with intelligence.”

In all, Oklahoma City shot in the forties for the majority of the game, finishing the night with a 37-of-87 (42.5%) plate from the field. The Thunder’s scoring from distance came in bunches as the group tallied 6 of their 10 made threes across their two winning quarters — shooting 10-of-34 (29.4%) overall from the perimeter. In efforts to recuperate the shooting slump, the group made their way to the stripe for 30 attempts across the evening, finishing the night with a 24-of-30 clip at the line. 

New Orleans took Oklahoma City in on a scare to cap the evening, however, their 34-of-97 (35.1%) barrage from the floor didn’t bode well in the grand scheme of things. Similarly to the Thunder, the Pelicans shot a weary 9-of-35 (25.7%) from beyond-the-arch while also finding their safe haven at the line with a 23-of-32 (71.9%) conversation rate. The Pelicans sourced to high scorers in Jonas Valanciunas with 25 points and 15 rebounds, and Devonte Graham, who ended the night with 18 points and 4 assists. However, the main star for the Pelicans rested in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s cousin, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, the guard played possessed in the fourth quarter, running up-and-down for 22 points in 12 minutes while bolstering his end stat line to 33 points (10-of-22 FG), 10 rebounds, and 4 assists in 34 minutes. 

“It was fun,” said Alexander-Walker. “I’m happy he played well. I’m happy he lost. I’m gonna sleep well tonight.”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander struggled from the floor shooting 7-of-19 (2-of-7 3PT) throughout the night, however, the 23-year-old found his way to the line for an 8-of-11 hit rate while coasting to 24 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. Gilgeous-Alexander’s on-court play never truly found its form as the guard shanked near all his shots from the three, leading to a plethora of highly-contested inside shots — but the Kentucky product came up big down the stretch.

Lu Dort led the Thunder in scoring, producing a full-on package to post 27 points and 5 rebounds in 34 minutes. Dort wavered from downtown shooting 2-of-7 from the three-point line, however, the guard nailed at six of his shots around the rim while churning out 9-of-10 shots from the charity stripe.  

Darius Bazley continued his positive impact into Wednesday as the forward posted 14 points (5-of-9 FG) and 7 rebounds in 34 minutes. Baze’s confidence looked to be at astronomical levels against the Pelicans as he pulled three quick-fire triples throughout the game, nailing one. The 21-year-old strived in an off-ball role yet again operating as a primary cutter for most of the night while being a sturdy addition on defense. 

Mike Muscala added a jolt off the Thunder bench with 12 points in 13 minutes. Muscala carried a major say in Oklahoma City’s second-half push, primarily working from beyond-the-arch (3-of-3 3PT) to tally his points. 

Josh Giddey started the night as one of Oklahoma City’s top scorers, though, at the end of the night, the Aussie finished as the Thunder’s premier passer. Giddey neared a triple double on Wednesday racking up 7 points (3-of-10 FG), 12 rebounds, and 9 assists in 31 minutes. Giddey’s rebounding and passing play netted the 19-year-old team highs in both respective categories. Giddey peered right over the Pelicans backcourt for pocket passes, finding players slicing inside with bounce passes for the majority of the contest.

Tre Mann received a promotion in his return from the G-League, receiving 14 minutes in his return for 6 points (3-of-7 FG) and 4 rebounds. As a result of Mann’s ramp up in play, Theo Maledon received his first DNP of the season.

The Oklahoma City Thunder (4-6) will take a one-day break before facing the Sacramento Kings (5-7) at the the Paycom Center. 

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