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Apr 26, 2024 3:03 pm

Upstart Pelicans bid to make stand in Game 3 vs. Thunder

New Orleans Pelicans

The top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder had to battle to the buzzer to win their Western Conference first-round series opener against the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Thunder had a much easier time in Game 2, routing the Pelicans 124-92 Wednesday night.

The eighth-seeded Pelicans will look to break through at home Saturday afternoon in Game 3 of the best-of-seven series.

“Now, the challenge is to continue to grow and learn and improve with the series because the Pelicans are going to improve,” Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said.

“They’re a good team that’s going home and they’re well coached. They’re going to get better so we have to continue to get better.”

The Thunder didn’t leave a lot of room for improvement after shooting 59.0 percent from the floor and making 14 of 29 attempts from 3-point range in Game 2. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the way with 33 points, Chet Holmgren added 26 and Jalen Williams had 21.

“In the first game, I thought both teams were kind of calibrating,” Daigneault said. “And (in Game 2) we had much quicker recognition of the way that they were guarding us, where we wanted to attack, and we got to those things pretty well.”

Oklahoma City’s defense was excellent in both games as New Orleans scored fewer than 100 points in consecutive games for just the second time this season. In Game 2, the Pelicans shot 45.2 percent from the floor (including 7 of 26 from 3-point range) and the Thunder scored 22 points off 18 New Orleans turnovers.

Brandon Ingram has averaged 15.0 points and is shooting just 37.0 percent from the floor in the first two games for the Pelicans, who are playing without injured leading scorer Zion Williamson.

Third-leading scorer CJ McCollum has averaged 17.5 points but is just 3 of 14 from 3-point range.

“We’ve got to be together a little bit more,” Ingram said. “If you look at OKC, you can see how together they are. We can’t splinter.

“We’ve got to go back, look at the film, and we’ve got to talk amongst players about what’s our best defense (and) what’s our best offense. We’ve got to go out there and do it.”

Center Jonas Valanciunas scored New Orleans’ first 11 points in Game 2. He added just eight more as Holmgren turned things around in the matchup of 7-footers.

“We didn’t match their physicality on defense,” Valanciunas said. “We have to make some adjustments. Have to be better on Saturday. Simple as that. There is no way out. We just have to be better.”

New Orleans coach Willie Green said his team is “going to lean into” Ingram and count on him to “find his rhythm.”

“We regroup, we get home and we take care of home court,” Green said.

New Orleans, which had the best road record in the NBA at 28-14, lost six straight home games before defeating Sacramento in a play-in elimination game.

Oklahoma City, which won eight more games than the Pelicans during the regular season, was 24-17 away from home.

The Thunder were 2-0 at New Orleans in the regular season, prevailing 107-83 on Jan. 26 and 119-112 on March 26.

–Field Level Media

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