Player grades: Thunder sweep Pelicans with 97-89 Game 4 win

NEW ORLEANS — As the shot clock winded down, Jalen Williams swished in a deep top-of-the-key 3-pointer to flatten out any faint hopes of a comeback for New Orleans. The massive outside shot pushed OKC’s lead to 11 points with three minutes left.

The Oklahoma City Thunder completed the first-round series sweep with a 97-89 Game 4 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. It’s OKC’s first playoff series win since 2016.

“The defense kinda stabilized us all night,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said on their series-clinching win. “The game never got away from us despite struggles offensively… They tested our conviction in the gameplan and the guys just stuck with it and really executed down the stretch. Did a great job on both ends.”

Much like most of the series, it was a low-scoring affair for the opening portion of the contests. Both teams exited the first quarter tied at 21 apiece. The Thunder’s 23-point second frame gave them a slight 44-43 edge at halftime. Both squads struggled to score in a defensive-heavy opening two quarters.

That continued through the halftime break and in the second half. Both teams exchanged baskets in the third frame as OKC entered the fourth quarter with a small 71-70 deficit. The Pelicans pushed their lead to five points a little over eight minutes left in the frame.

It felt like the Pelicans were on their way to forcing a Game 5 as the active New Orleans crowd loudly cheered to give the home squad extra momentum. Instead, the Thunder kept their composure and went on a decisive 13-2 run to hold a 93-82 lead with three minutes left capped off by Williams’ last-second 3-pointer.

The final three minutes were drama-free as the Pelicans crowd filed out for their season’s last game. In total, the Thunder outscored the Pelicans in the fourth quarter, 27-18. A back-and-forth contest that saw 19 lead changes and 18 ties finished with OKC completing the sweep.

The Thunder shot 43% from the field and went 12-of-40 (30%) from 3. They went 15-of-24 from the free-throw line. They had 18 assists on 35 baskets. All five Thunder starters scored double-digit points.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 24 points on 21 shots. Williams had 24 points and eight rebounds. Chet Holmgren totaled 14 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Josh Giddey scored 14 points and went 4-of-6 from 3.

I thought defensively, we started getting stops,” Giddey said on their fourth quarter. “We made them take tough shots and they were not hitting them. We were getting out in transition and getting what we wanted… Once a guy starts seeing the ball go through the hoop a couple of times, they start to build confidence. It is contagious for the whole team.”

Meanwhile, the Pelicans failed to reach 90 points once again. It wrapped up an offensive-ugly series for New Orleans, who averaged 89 points on 40% shooting in four contests. Zion Williamson’s absence ultimately was the death blow to its postseason aspirations.

Brandon Ingram was made into a nonfactor this entire series thanks to fantastic perimeter defense by the Thunder. He finished with eight points on 2-of-14 shooting and six assists. CJ McCollum had 20 points on 9-of-16 shooting. Jonas Valanciunas had 19 points and 13 rebounds.

“I thought they cranked it up, they tried to play faster tonight,” Daigneault said on the Pelicans. “I thought they tried to go to different things offensively to try to crack us and the guys just hung in there… The defense allowed us to have a chance to win these games.”

Eerily similar to Game 1, the Thunder survived their offensive limitations by matching the Pelicans with their defensive effort. In the fourth quarter, Williams and Giddey made massive shots to push OKC past New Orleans, who couldn’t counter with its shot-making abilities.

The Thunder now advance and will enjoy another lengthy break. They will get a chance to rest up as the LA Clippers and Dallas Mavericks fight it out to match up against OKC in the second round. The Thunder made history by being the youngest squad to win a playoff series in league history.

“I was curious to see what version of ourselves we bring into the series and we were very much in character,” Daigneault said on their first playoff series win as a core. “Credit to them and then credit to everybody in the organization that’s worked hard not only this season but in the last few years during this build.”

Let’s look at Thunder player grades.

Story originally appeared on Thunder Wire