The Thunder overcame playoff inexperience in the Pelicans with a Game 1 victory

OKLAHOMA CITY — Entering the playoffs, the Thunder are the youngest NBA team to hold the No. 1 seed since the seeding began in 1984.

After missing the playoffs the past three seasons and working to rebuild, the Thunder's reward for a strong Western Conference top seed was facing the 49-win New Orleans Pelicans, who had to fight their way through the playoffs, but also earned an honor. League-best record on the road.

Seven of the 11 Thunder players who took the field Sunday night were competing in their first playoff game. The relative inexperience showed itself at times in the fourth quarter, but the team came through when it was needed most.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander hit a three-point play with 32.5 seconds left to lift the Thunder, while rookies Seth Holmgren and Cason Wallace made big defensive plays to help Oklahoma City win Game 1, 94-92. – round playoff series.

“Everybody that came in played their part,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “They gave good minutes. All 11 did their part and that's the reason we won tonight.”

After Gilgeous-Alexander tied the score at 90 with 1:36 left, the Pelicans' ensuing possession featured four shot attempts and three offensive rebounds — but no points, thanks to one final stop by Holmgren.

Pelicans center Larry Nance Jr. rolled to the rim and tried to get a shot over Holmgren's outstretched arms, but the rookie met the ball at the top to record his fifth block.

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“I tried to make a play,” Holmgren said. “I didn't want to leave things in the hands of the other team, so I was going to go late and try to go up and play whether it was going to be goaltending or not.”

Gilgeous-Alexander gave the Thunder the lead for good on the next possession.

The Pelicans answered with a quick basket on their next possession, and then Holmgren hit one of two free throws to make it a two-point game.

With 14 seconds left, the Pelicans got the ball to CJ McCallum and Wallace switched on him. McCullum lost the ball first but managed to get it back; He then stepped in on Wallace's block attempt and saw a shot on the line, but hit the back of the rim.

“I thought it was money, and I missed it for a long time,” McCallum said. “But the game shouldn't have come to that.”

Both teams struggled to defend early on. The game was tied at 17 after the first quarter and 43 at halftime.

It was the most exciting NBA playoff weekend yet. There were 20 lead changes compared to 19 lead changes in the other seven games.

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New Orleans took a 90-88 lead — their 19th of the game — on a layup by Brandon Ingram with 3:34 to go, but didn't score again until 26.5 seconds remained. The Pelicans went 1-of-7 in the final 3:09 with four turnovers.

Oklahoma City held New Orleans to 38.5% shooting, and the Pelicans corner went just 1-for-15 on 3-pointers.

It's been an exciting start for the No. 1 seed, but Thunder coach Marc Daignault knows it's just the beginning.

“I told the team, and I think it's true, these streaks are long,” Daigneault said. “You have to progress through the series and that's our challenge now. We have to look at the film, learn from it and be a better team on Wednesday than we were tonight.”

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