How Jalen Williams and Josh Giddey helped the Thunder pull away

How Jalen Williams and Josh Giddey helped the Thunder pull away

Williams and Giddey scored 19 of the Thunder’s first 23 points of the fourth quarter, turning a one-point deficit into a 10-point lead.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Apr 30, 2024, 7:25am CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Apr 30, 2024, 7:25am CDT

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When the postgame television interviews were done, Jalen Williams pulled Josh Giddey into a bear hug.

A big smile spread across Giddey’s face.

Williams buried his face in Giddey’s shoulder, but it’s difficult to believe Williams wasn’t smiling, too. 

Safe to say, those two had Thunder fans grinning, too.

On a night these young Thunder put away the Pelicans, winning the game 97-87 and sweeping the series 4-0, there was lots to like. A defense that held the Pelicans below 93 points every game of the series. (What is this, 1974?) A bunch that showed its resilience time and again.

But everything was not wonderful in Thunder Land. The offense clunked along much of the night. It committed 14 turnovers, many of which were unforced and the product of carelessness. It got just 10 points from the reserves. And Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was 8-of-21 from the floor, which was poor by his standards, and was 7-of-13 from the free-throw line, which is poor by any standards.

But when the game hung in the balance, Giddey and Williams grabbed on and pulled it in the Thunder’s favor.

“We have some big players who made some big shots,” Thunder big man Chet Holmgren said.

It started with Giddey early in the fourth quarter.

A minute into the final frame, the Pelicans opened up a five-point lead, which doesn’t sound like much but was their biggest advantage of the night. The most they led by in the entire series was seven points, so five points was significant.

And with the Thunder having gone five game minutes without a point, it felt like the momentum was turning.

Then, Holmgren found Giddey standing all alone behind the arc in the left corner with a skip pass, and Giddey, who had made just two shots all night, didn’t hesitate. 

Splash.

A minute later, Williams was equally aggressive. Despite going scoreless in the third quarter, a rarity for him, he attacked the lane. He charged through the defense and finger rolled the ball through the basket.

A couple of minutes later, it was Giddey again, this time pulling up for a three in transition.

Let that sink in: Josh Giddey, who was so suspect as a 3-point shooter that opponents left him completely unguarded earlier this season, pulled up for a transition three.

But wait, there’s more.

He nailed it.

“When a guy sees the ball go through the hoop a couple times, they start to build confidence and that’s contagious for the whole team,” Giddey said. “That wasn’t just me. I thought Dub stepped up big in the fourth. He made tough shots. 

“It was a collective effort.”

In the first nine minutes of the fourth quarter, Giddey and Williams combined to score 19 of the Thunder’s 23 points. Williams had 10, and Giddey had nine, all on shots from behind the arc. 

By the end of that stretch, the Thunder turned a one-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter into an 11-point lead.

“We really moved the ball down the stretch,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “We didn’t do a great job of it throughout the flow of the game, but when we needed to, we really worked together, executed, got great shots. The guys delivered, hit big shots.

“Really executed down the stretch. Did a great job on both ends.”

Truth be told, the defining stretch of the game — and the Giddey-Williams two-step — came in a 73-second burst late in the fourth quarter that included those two making big plays on both ends of the court.

4:21: Williams nails a deep three from the top of the key to give the Thunder an 88-82 lead. The official play-by-play listed it at 25 feet. Seems woefully short to me. 

3:58: Williams steals the ball from Brandon Ingram, which leads to …

3:52: Williams gets fouled in transition and hits a pair of free throws.

3:34: Giddey ties up Herb Jones as he drives to the basket, blocking the shot and popping it out toward the baseline. Giddey, who ended up out of bounds, gets himself back inbounds, grabs the loose ball and on his tip toes, saves it to a teammate.

3:08: Williams splashes another three, this one as the shot clock is about to expire.

“I thought the defense … we made them take a lot of tough shots,” Giddey said. “They weren’t hitting them, and we were getting out in transition. We were getting what we wanted.

“As a player, these are the moments you want to be in, you want to play in.”

There weren’t a ton of stretches where the Thunder played beautiful basketball Monday night, but what Williams and Giddey did in the fourth quarter was enabled by their defense. Not just the defense that they played in those moments, but rather the defense the Thunder played throughout the game.

Even when the offense struggled, the defense never faltered.

The Pelicans only scored less than 93 points three times during the regular season — but in this playoff series, they scored less than 93 in all four games.

It was an unbelievable defensive performance, and while Lu Dort and Chet Holmgren were the leaders of the pack, every Thunder had a hand. Starters. Reserves. Stars. Role players. You don’t hold a team in the 80s and low 90s every game without a total team effort.

“Really throughout the series, the defense has been a constant,” Daigneault said. “We really haven’t allowed even portions of the game to get away from us very much. 

“And I thought (the Pelicans) cranked it up. They tried to play faster tonight. They really, I thought, tried to go to some different things offensively to try to crack us, and the guys just hung in there.”

Did they ever.

In a game the Pelicans had to win, the Thunder held them to 37.6% shooting from the floor and 23.5% from behind the arc and forced them into 18 turnovers.

That gave Williams and Giddey a chance to play the heroes in the fourth quarter, and that gave the Thunder another impressive win, a series sweep and yes, lots of reasons to smile.

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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