SGA, Thunder give glimpses of future in play-in win over Pelicans

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The NBA play-in tournament continued Wednesday, with the top-10 Oklahoma City Thunder knocking off the New Orleans Pelicans again on the road.

OKC will now face Minnesota on Friday with the eighth seed in the West on the line.

Here’s the FOX Sports writer John Fanta’s Thunder-Pelicans takeaway:

The second-youngest roster in NBA history had already made enough strides in the 2022-23 campaign to qualify it as a success, with an open window for growth moving forward. Fighting through their season Wednesday night, 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 dominant third quarter and holding on to eliminate the Pelicans in the NBA playoffs, 123-118. With the win, OKC advances to a Friday night matchup with the Timberwolves in Minnesota at 9:30 PM ET. The winner gets the eight seed in the West and a series with the top seed Denver Nuggets.

The bottom line: The Thunder showed the NBA world, in one isolated television window, that there’s a ton of potential and upside with this organization, and if this team is a factor in the coming years, it could be seen on Wednesday as a launch point.

In the biggest spot of his NBA career to date, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was terrific in the closing moments, scoring a game-high 32 points, eight of which came in the final 1:40. The 24-year-old, who is 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, scoring 58 points in the paint. SGA’s big night was no surprise as he has averaged over 31 points per game on the season.

But to survive Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum and company, OKC’s supporting cast would have to step up, and it did just that. This was a shining moment for Josh Giddey and Lu Dort.

First of all, it’s wild to think that Giddey is 20 years old after watching Wednesday night’s game. The No. 6 overall pick in the 2021 draft was an upside pick at the time, and we all saw why with the show he put on in New Orleans, matching his career high with 31 points, he accompany 10 assists and nine. bounces Going a perfect 5-for-5 with five assists in the third, Giddey played a big role alongside Gilgeous-Alexander’s 17 points as the Thunder outscored the Pelicans 39-24 in the frame to open a nine-point lead.

As for Dort, Wednesday night came as a reward for all those nights he dedicated to the organization over the past four years. The 23-year-old posted a season-high 27 points with two clutch free throws to extend the lead to three with six seconds remaining.

These playoff games mean different things to different teams and by being eliminated, New Orleans helps their draft stock after an underwhelming season. That’s for a different day.

Wednesday night for the Thunder was all about embracing the moment, their core posting their best collective hour and Oklahoma City getting on the radar and extending their season by another 48 minutes. The balance of this Thunder team down the stretch was truly impressive in a road environment, with Ingram (30 points, 7 assists) getting his team going and looking like he couldn’t be stopped. But OKC kept finding ways to come back, doing some great defensive work in the final minute and frustrating McCollum all night on 5-for-15 shooting.

Consider: This one-season jump comes on the heels of last August’s news, when No. 2 draft pick and self-proclaimed unicorn Chet Holmgren was ruled out for his entire rookie season with a hamstring injury. Lisfranc to his right. foot.

Sam Presti should be smiling, because his plan is taking shape and has a core that has only scratched the surface. Oh, and Holmgren? The fate of the organization does not depend on him. He can certainly speed up the build even more, but Presti has 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 0-4 in the previous two 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 number could easily be 4-0 if the Timberwolves hadn’t been blown out in Los Angeles. A sign of things to come once the playoffs really ramp up? see me

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers sports 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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