Shai Gilgeous-Alexander lifts Thunder past Pelicans in tight battle without Zion Williamson

SGA dropped 28 points and hit two clutch shots in the closing minutes

The New Orleans Pelicans came so close to pulling off a huge upset without star Zion Williamson on Sunday night.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, however, showed up perfectly at the very end.

The MVP finalist lifted the Oklahoma City Thunder to a tight 94-92 win over the Pelicans in what was perhaps the best Game 1 across the league this weekend. The Thunder, who were hosting their first playoff game in exactly five years at the Paycom Center on Sunday night, became the eighth home team to win their playoff opener over the past two days, making for a rare clean sweep for the first time since 2013.

After appearing to pull away in the third quarter, the Thunder largely shut down offensively in the fourth. They went on a stretch without making a field goal for more than five full minutes, and the Pelicans took full advantage. The Pelicans mounted a dominant 18-6 run over that stretch to erase a double-digit deficit and jump back in front after playing a step behind for much of the second half.

Finally, though, Gilgeous-Alexander hit a jumper to end the Thunder's dry spell with just 90 seconds left to tie the game. Then, after Chet Holmgren came up with his fifth block of the night, Gilgeous-Alexander converted a ridiculous and-one jumper from the lane on the next possession.

Though CJ McCollum hit a mid-range jumper of his own to end a Pelicans scoring drought, and he got one final look at a game-winner, the Pelicans couldn’t convert. The Thunder came up with one last stop to seal their two-point win.

Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 28 points, six rebounds and four assists despite going 0-of-3 from behind the arc. Jalen Williams added 19 points and seven rebounds, and Holmgren had 15 points and 11 rebounds to go with his five blocks.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander headshot
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
SG - OKC - #2
4/21/2024 v. NO

Trey Murphy led the Pelicans with 21 points and four rebounds, and McCollum added 20 points while shooting 9-of-22 from the field. Jonas Valanciunas finished with 13 points and 20 rebounds.

The Pelicans had to beat the Sacramento Kings in the final play-in tournament game on Friday night to even make the playoffs. Williamson, who dropped 40 points in their play-in loss to the Lakers last week, missed that contest due to a hamstring injury. He was unavailable on Sunday night, too, and he’s going to be out until at least Game 5 of this series. If he was healthy and available on Sunday night, the game could have been much different for the Pelicans.

But even with him sidelined for at least the immediate future, New Orleans showed it could absolutely hang with the top seed in the Western Conference. Whether that can lead to a series upset, though, remains to be seen.