NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 35 points and the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the undermanned New Orleans Pelicans 110-96 on Saturday night for their fourth victory in five games.
Josh Giddey added 19 points and Jalen Williams had 17 for the Thunder, who led most of the way and by as many as 21 in the first half. Gilgeous-Alexander, who did not attempt a 3-pointer, hit 11 of 23 shots and made all 13 of his free throws.
“His mid-range game is up with the best in the league,” Giddey said of Gilgeous-Alexander, who has scored 30 or more points in 12 of his last 16 games. “He’s crafty on the block in the mid-post, finishes well and gets fouled a lot. So he’s got a very deep bag. He’s got a lot of weapons he goes to and you see there’s not a lot of guys in this league who can cover him one-on-one.
“When he’s hot, when he’s getting to his spots and knocking down shots, he’s probably the toughest player in the league to guard at this point,” Giddey added.
Already struggling during All-Star power forward Zion Williamson’s extended injury absence, New Orleans also played without high-scoring wing Brandon Ingram, who entered the day listed as questionable after leaving a game Wednesday with a right ankle sprain.
CJ McCollum scored 26 points for the Pelicans, who entered the fourth quarter down by 15 and cut the Thunder’s lead to nine with more than five minutes remaining.
Thunder reserve Isaiah Joe’s third 3 of the game seemed to stunt New Orleans’ momentum. Soon after, Giddey’s 9-foot floater and Gilgeous-Alexander’s step-back jumper sealed the victory.
“It’s hard to hold a lead for the whole game on the road the way we did tonight,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “We held them off with sound execution on both ends.”
Naji Marshall and Trey Murphy III each scored 15 points for New Orleans. Jonas Valanciunas added 13 points for the Pelicans, while Jaxson Hayes had 11 points and two blocked shots.
But the Pelicans were done in by turnovers. They committed 22, leading to 23 Thunder points. Gilgeous-Alexander had four steals.
By contrast, New Orleans turned 12 Thunder turnovers into just eight points.
“We just didn’t bring it tonight — no excuses,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “We didn’t come out and match their energy on our home floor and take pride in these games. We came out lax and turned the ball over too much.
“We can help ourselves by simply outplaying teams and playing smart,” Green added. “Our margin for error is small when we have guys out. … We can’t kill oursleves like that.”
The result pulled Oklahoma City even with New Orleans in the standings at 32-35. Both clubs sat just a half-game behind Utah (33-35) for 10th place and the final play-in spot in the Western Conference.
Thunder: Finished with an 18-10 advantage in fast-break points. … Shot 46.3% (37 of 80), including 9 of 28 from 3-point range. … Outscored New Orleans in the paint, 48-36. … Outscored the Pelicans 27-16 from the foul line.
Pelicans: Have a 9-21 record since Williamson went out with an injured right hamstring on Jan. 2. … Fell to 8-11 in games without both Williamson and Ingram. … Outrebounded the Thunder 43-38. … Shot 42% (34 of 81), including 12 of 34 from beyond the arc.
Williams missed Oklahoma City’s previous two games with a sprained right wrist and Daigneault was particularly pleased by the way Williams defended Valanciunas in the paint.
“He did a great job on Valanciunas. Everything Valanciunas got was earned. He was really physical with him, met him and got him off his spots,” Daigneault said. “It kind of forced them into playing away from Valanciunas down the stretch which allowed us to go small. … So, it had a domino effect on the game.”
Thunder: Play at San Antonio on Sunday night.
Pelicans: Will host Portland on Sunday night.
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