OKC will now face Minnesota on Friday with the eighth seed in the West on the line.
Here are FOX Sports writer John Fanta’s takeaways from Thunder-Pelicans:
The second-youngest roster in NBA history had already made enough strides in the 2022-23 campaign to call it a success, with a window wide open for growth moving forward. On Wednesday night, fighting for their season, the kids showed that the wait in Oklahoma City for a contender in the West might not have to be as long as originally expected at this time a year ago.
The 10th-seeded Thunder made a statement in New Orleans, turning the tables with a commanding third quarter and hanging on to eliminate the Pelicans in the NBA play-in tournament, 123-118. With the win, OKC advances to a Friday night win-or-go matchup with the Timberwolves in Minnesota at 9:30 p.m. ET. The winner nabs the eight-seed in the West and a series with the top-seeded Denver Nuggets.
The takeaway: The Thunder showed the NBA world, in an isolated TV window, that there’s a boatload of potential and upside with this organization, and if this team is a factor in the years to come, Wednesday could be viewed as a launching point.
In the biggest spot of his NBA career thus far, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was fantastic in closing time, posting a game-high 32 points, eight of which came in the final 1:40. The 24-year-old, who’s in his fourth season in Oklahoma City, looked predictably smooth with the rock in a game that saw the Thunder get to the rim at will, earning 58 points in the paint. SGA’s big night wasn’t a surprise because he’s posted over 31 points per game on the season.
First off, it’s wild to think Giddey is 20 years of age after watching Wednesday night’s game. The No. 6 overall pick in the 2021 draft was an upside selection at the time, and we all saw why with the show he put on in New Orleans, matching a career-high with 31 points, to go along with 10 assists and nine rebounds. Going a perfect 5-for-5 with five assists in the third, Giddey played a huge role alongside Gilgeous-Alexander’s 17 points for the Thunder to outscore the Pelicans 39-24 in the frame and open up a nine-point lead.
As for Dort, Wednesday night came off as a reward for all of those nights he’s put in for the organization in the last four years. The 23-year-old posted a season-high 27 points, coming up with two clutch free throws to extend the lead back to three with six seconds left.
These play-in tournament games mean different things for different teams and in getting eliminated, New Orleans helps its draft stock following an underwhelming season. That’s for a different day.
Wednesday night for the Thunder was about embracing the moment, their core posting a collective finest hour and Oklahoma City arriving on the radar and extending its season 48 more minutes. The poise of this Thunder team down the stretch was really impressive in a road atmosphere, with Ingram (30 points, 7 assists) willing his team and looking like he couldn’t be stopped. But OKC just kept on finding ways to punch back, doing a great job defensively in the final minute and frustrating McCollum all night to the tune of 5-for-15 shooting.
Just think: This leap of a season has come following the gut-punch piece of news last August, when No. 2 overall draft pick and proclaimed unicorn Chet Holmgren was ruled out for the entirety of his rookie season with a Lisfranc injury to his right foot.
Sam Presti should be smiling, because his plan is taking shape and he’s got a core that’s only scratched the surface. Oh, and Holmgren? The fate of the organization does not hinge on him. He can certainly accelerate the build even further, but Presti owns 15 first-round picks over the next five NBA Drafts. He’s sitting pretty, and the Thunder are still standing.
Two big notes:
The No. 10 seeds entered Wednesday night at 0-4 in the two previous years of the NBA play-in tournament. That winless record is no more, as both the Bulls and Thunder came away with wins over the Raptors and Pelicans, respectively.
Of interest: Road teams are 3-1 in the play-in tournament, and that figure could be easily be 4-0 had the Timberwolves not unraveled in Los Angeles. A sign of things to come once the playoffs rev up in earnest? We’ll see.
John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.
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Source: FOX Sports