NBA: Defense lifts Thunder to Game 3 win over Pelicans; roll to 3-0 series lead

NBA: Defense lifts Thunder to Game 3 win over Pelicans; roll to 3-0 series lead

The Oklahoma City Thunder had three players score 20 or more points as they cruised past the Pelicans 106-85 at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans in Game 3 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series to take a 3-0 lead.

The Thunder, who finished the regular season with the best record in the West, came into the playoffs with many experts questioning their experience at this level. However, their average age has not deterred them once, as they have looked comfortable all through the series against New Orleans.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led with a game-high 24 points and eight assists; Jalen Williams, who has been terrific all season-long for the Thunder, scored 13 of his 21 points in the second half to go along with 9 rebounds and 5 assists; and Australian guard Josh Giddey finished with 21 points, 8 rebounds, and six assists.

OKC has dominated the series on both ends of the floor, ensuring New Orleans hasn’t surpassed the 92-point mark in all three games played so far. They have won the last two games with a blowout victory, clinching Game 2 by 32 points and Saturday’s game by 21 points.

“We were ready to play,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “Our physicality again, our defense and focus on that end of the floor was really, really good, made them earn everything. And I thought that set the tone.”

The first quarter in Game 3 was close, with OKC racing to a four-point lead, but the damage was mostly done in the second quarter, in which they won 37-27 and headed into the halftime break with a 14-point lead. The second half wasn’t different, with the visitors finishing with a seven-point lead, which was mostly due to their 3-point efficiency as they shot 47.2% from beyond the arc.

The Pelicans, who are likely to play without Zion Williamson throughout the first round, were led by Brandon Ingram’s 19 points. Veteran guard CJ McCollum ended with 16 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists; Herb Jones had 15 points and 7 rebounds; and Larry Nance Jr., who came off the bench, finished with nine points and a game-high 13 rebounds.

Despite seemingly being played off the floor in the last two games and currently down three in the series, Willie Green, head coach of the Pelicans, asserted that the series isn’t over as they still have one more game to play at home and try to save themselves.

“It’s not over,” Green said of his message to the team. “Look, we’ve got another game here at home and we’re not going to fix all of our issues tonight. Go home, have a good meal and we’ll come back on Sunday and practice and go over what we need to do and get ready for the next game.”

No team in NBA history has won a series after being down 3-0, but the Pelicans would be provided with another chance to have a go at the Thunder, whom they will host in Game 4 on Monday night.

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