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Player grades: Thunder on brink of sweep with 106-85 Game 3 win over Pelicans

NEW ORLEANS — As the local crowd filed out, traveling OKC fans began to take over the Smoothie King Center in the final minutes. Loud ‘Let’s go Thunder!’ chants echoed throughout New Orleans following another dominating performance by the West’s first seed.

The Oklahoma City Thunder enjoyed a lopsided 106-85 Game 3 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday. It puts OKC up 3-0 in its first-round series of the 2024 NBA playoffs and one win away from advancing to the second round for the first time since 2016.

“I thought New Orleans was ready to play, I thought we were ready to play,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said on the playoff win. “I thought our physicality — again, our defense, focus on that end of the floor — was really, really good. Made them earn everything. I thought that set the tone for the game.”

The start of this contest looked eerily similar to Game 1. Both offenses struggled to score as the Thunder held a 23-19 lead following the first quarter. This was likely the brand of basketball the Pelicans hoped to play entirely as they’ve struggled on offense. It was their only viable game plan to collect wins in this series.

The second frame was a much different story for OKC. It totaled 37 points as a 20-7 run ballooned its lead to double-digit points. The Thunder entered halftime with a commanding 60-46 lead. The second half provided little drama as OKC held a double-digit lead for most of the latter two quarters.

A 25-point third frame by the Thunder gave them an 85-69 lead after three quarters. The final frame was stress-free as OKC limited New Orleans to 16 points on its way to a blowout victory.

The Thunder shot 48% from the field and went a hot 17-of-36 (47.2%) from 3. They had 27 assists on 40 baskets. Four Thunder starters scored double-digit points and were all plus-10 or better in the lopsided win.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 24 points on 8-of-20 shooting, eight assists and four steals. Josh Giddey had 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Jalen Williams totaled 21 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Chet Holmgren had six points, eight rebounds and four blocks.

“When you have success, it’s easy to kinda take your foot off the gas and not pay attention to those details,” Williams said on their mindset heading into Game 3. “… I think that 0-0 mindset is something we lean on. The last two games, even this game now, doesn’t matter. We just kinda try to take that approach. Everytime we play, it’s a totally new game.”

Meanwhile, the Pelicans simply don’t have enough offensive power without Zion Williamson. They shot 38% from the field and went 9-of-32 (28.1%) from 3. They committed 20 turnovers and only four Pelicans players scored double-digit points. Through three games this series, they’ve averaged 89 points.

Brandon Ingram was limited to 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting and four rebounds. CJ McCollum was held to 16 points on 7-of-22 shooting and seven assists. Jonas Valciunas only logged 12 minutes before being benched in the second half.

The Thunder are now up with an insurmountable 3-0 lead. No team in league history has ever returned from that deficit. OKC will have a chance to receive ample rest between playoff series if they complete the sweep in Game 4.

“They’re gonna swing away, we’re gonna swing away,” Daigneault said. “You’re gonna land some punches, you’re gonna take some punches. You just gotta be a tough-minded team that plays through the full 48. They’ve done that in every game.

“They’re a competitive team, they’re a tough team. We’re gonna have to continue to withstand that if we want to continue to have success.”

Let’s look at Thunder player grades.

Story originally appeared on Thunder Wire