NEW ORLEANS — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander capped his 32-point night with a go-ahead baseline jumper and four clutch free throws in the final 29 seconds, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the New Orleans Pelicans 123-118 on Wednesday night. Alive in the Western Conference play-in tournament.
Josh Gidde had 31 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds for Oklahoma City, the only Western Conference team still playing with a undefeated record.
“We’re battle-tested. We’ve had a lot of close games the last two years,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Even though the season didn’t go our way, we played a lot of close games, we have good habits and we know what to do to stretch it.”
The loss eliminated the ninth-seeded Pelicans, while 10th-seeded Oklahoma City advanced to play at Minnesota on Friday night to enter the NBA playoffs as the eighth seed and meet No. 1 Denver.
Brandon Ingram scored 20 of his 30 points in the second half, including a 3-pointer with 4.3 seconds left to give the Pelicans a slim chance at a comeback.
But after Gilgeous-Alexander hit two free throws, Herbert Jones threw away an inbounds pass, nearly sealing New Orleans’ fate.
Le Dart scored 27 for the Thunder, including a pair of free throws with 6.2 seconds left.
Jonas Valanciunas had 16 points and 18 rebounds for New Orleans, but left with 4:26 remaining after injuring his right leg. He returned only briefly at the last minute.
Trey Murphy III had 21 points, Jones had 20 and CJ McCollum had 14 for the Pelicans, who went 2-0 in play-in games a season ago as the ninth seed to advance to the first round.
This time, New Orleans, which was atop the Western Conference standings in December, had to wonder what might have been had Zion Williamson not been out for the rest of the season with a hamstring injury on Jan. 2.
New Orleans led 69-62 early in the third quarter before the Thunder went on a 13-2 run when Gilgeous-Alexander was fouled on a driving foul.
Gilgeous-Alexander scored 17 in the period and Kidde added 12, including his third 3-pointer to give Oklahoma City a 95-85 lead.
But New Orleans went on a 7-0 run early in the fourth, capped by a 3 by reserve guard Josh Richardson, to pull within 98-96 of the Pelicans.
The Pelicans went back in front when Richardson’s steal and breakaway dunk made it 101-100, but when the Thunder came back on the court, Richardson was called for a foul after knocking Giday to the floor near midcourt. Gide got to his feet angrily and started toward Richardson. Officials called for a video review and teammates stopped both when they determined Richardson had committed a flagrant foul.
Giddey made one of two free throws to tie it and set the stage for a dramatic finish.
Dart, who averaged 13.7 points during the regular season, scored 14 in the first quarter. But the Pelicans surged ahead late in the first half, with Murphy hitting a pair of 3s to help New Orleans take a 63-57 lead into halftime.
Ingram sprained his left ankle while taking a step late in the second quarter. However, he did not leave the game and played most of the second half.