Brandon Ingram looks cooked after two games against OKC’s Lu Dort

Brandon Ingram looks cooked after two games against OKC’s Lu Dort

The New Orleans standout’s body language was not good as he managed only 10 shots and 18 points in Oklahoma City’s 124-92 victory Wednesday.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Apr 25, 2024, 6:36am CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Apr 25, 2024, 6:36am CDT

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Lu Dort lined up on the block hoping to rebound a missed New Orleans free throw, but finding himself next to Jonas Valanciunas, the Thunder defensive dictator decided to lean on the Pelicans big man a bit.

When Valanciunas leaned back — hard — Dort decided to save his energy for the Pelican lined up on the other side of him, Brandon Ingram. 

Dort rested a hand on Ingram’s back as he bent over, and Ingram did nothing to brush off Dort.

Ingram didn’t seem to have the energy.

Frankly, it doesn’t look like he has the energy to be hounded by Dort for another two games, much less another four or five.

On a night the Thunder dismantled the Pelicans 124-92 and took a commanding 2-0 lead in this Western Conference playoff series, Dort continued his domination of Ingram. 

He managed only 18 points of 5-of-10 shooting.

In the series opener, Ingram scored only 17 points on 5-of-17 shooting.

Two games with a combined 35 points? With Zion Williamson sidelined by a hamstring injury, Ingram probably needed to score that per game for the Pelicans to have much of a chance.

“Yeah, Lu,” Thunder superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said, considering his fellow Canadian for a moment, “I’m glad I don’t have to play against him.

“(Defense) is where he hangs his hat every night, and he doesn’t get complacent. It’s rare nights that we switch (on screens). He fights through everything and keeps his matchup all night.”

Ingram is the unfortunate victim of that Dort defense.

Because the sledding was so tough in Game 1, the Pelicans had to do some things differently to get Ingram better shots in Game 2. And they did as he shot a much better percentage, going from 29.4% on Sunday to 50% on Wednesday.

But Ingram only managed to get off 10 shots in Game 2 because Dort was in his jersey pretty much the entire night.

“He got cleaner looks tonight than he did in Game 1,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said of Ingram, “so we can study that and improve how we’re countering that.”

I’m sure Ingram is super excited to hear about the Thunder planning to strategize ways to be even better defensively against him. 

Ingram’s body language indicates he’s worn down. Tired. Defeated. 

That isn’t all because of Dort — the Thunder does switch occasionally — but basically any time Ingram got off the bench to check into the game, Dort would do the same. He has been Ingram’s shadow. 

Evil shadow, but still.

“It’s amazing to watch,” SGA said of Dort’s defense. “It’s special. It’s really a talent. Some guys can score, and Lu can play defense. How he hasn’t made an All-NBA team defensively or anything like that, I don’t know. I don’t vote, but he (plays) some of the best defense I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Guessing Brandon Ingram would agree.

Here’s what else we’re talking about after Game 2 …

***

Another half-court shot, another $20,000 winner.

Eli Walch banked in a halfcourt shot in the first quarter, making Thunder fans 2-for-2 on halfcourt winners during these playoffs.

Now, some might argue that perfection since Jaylen O’Conner made his halfcourt winner in Game 1 after being given 30 seconds to hit the shot and take as many attempts as needed. He missed three or four before nailing a shot from halfcourt.

Still, it’s impossible not to feel good for both O’Conner and Walch. 

Both were such cool moments.

And now, the pressure’s on. Perfection is on the line with the fan who attempts the halfcourt shot in Game 3. 

***

Three minutes into the game, Jonas Valanciunas was on pace to score 44 points — in the first quarter.

He was on pace to score 176 points in the game.

The Pelicans big man was going to have to take a breather eventually, but early, it seemed like that might be the only thing that would slow him down. He hit five of his first six shots and scored the Pelicans’ first 11 points.

But the next couple of possessions, the Pels went away from him — for reasons that can’t be any good — and Valanciunas hit only 1 of 4 shots the rest of the half and went to halftime with only 15 points.

“I thought (Thunder center Chet Holmgren) did a really good job of hanging in there,” Daigneault said. “Some of the early Valanciunas baskets were (Holmgren) was helping and it was rotational stuff. Couple were offensive rebounds, so it wasn’t just pure point-of-attack post-up. There was other stuff that Valanciunas got during that stretch that we could have cleaned up.

“But Chet did a great job on him.”

Holmgren said, “We were able to kind of adjust and figure out how to keep him from scoring a hundred.”

***

Oklahoma City has gone to the dogs.

The barking that became a postgame-oncourt-interview mainstay during the regular season has taken on a life of its own in the postseason. Fans are barking their approval for all sorts of things, though Bark Bros Jalen and Jaylin Williams are the recipients of most of it, but it’s gone beyond that.

Cardboard dog faces on a stick were spied in the arena Wednesday night. 

One fan even had a WOOF sign.

Well played.

The halftime act was an acrobat of some sort, and part of his act? 

A little dog.

Seems it’s only a matter of time before the Olate Dogs make a halftime appearance.

***

After confusion over a coach’s challenge in Game 1 required a clarification from the NBA, the league might be making another call to Thunder headquarters after Game 2.

According to Daigneault, a foul given to Holmgren early in the game was changed by the NBA’s replay center. It was likely the foul on the first possession of the game, which was announced at Paycom Center as going against Holmgren but in the official play-by-play was listed as being on Jalen Williams.

Daigneault and his staff wasn’t aware of the change, however, and when Holmgren picked up what the Thunder bench thought was his third foul with more than seven minutes remaining in the second quarter, Daigneault pulled Holmgren and sat him for the remainder of the half.

Had Daigneault known that the foul was only Holmgren’s second foul, Daigneault said he wouldn’t have pulled Holmgren.

“No, of course not,” Daigneault said. “I mean, he didn’t play the last seven and a half minutes of the second quarter.

“But I want to be clear: that referee crew, that’s not their call. That’s replay-center stuff. So I thought the refs, the three refs tonight were very good. They have a tough job, and they’re in a tough spot, and I thought they called a really good game, and that one’s not on them. They’re taking direction on that one.”

***

Funny moment that folks watching at home didn’t see (and probably some folks at Paycom Center didn’t notice either): when TNT came back from the very first commercial break of the game, all the players were on the court waiting for the game to resume, but sideline reporter Allie LaForce was on the court waiting to do her hit.

Seeing the hold up, Jalen Williams took a few steps over to get into the camera shot behind LaForce. He held up his arms in a what’s-the-deal pose, then rolled his hands in a hurry-this-along-please motion.

The only trouble was, when Williams stepped to the side, he put himself directly behind LaForce’s head. 

No one at home saw any of what he was doing.

Too bad. It was fun.

***

SGA had one of those signature games of high efficiency. He scored a game-high 33 points on 19 shots. He shot 68.4% from the floor, including 60% from behind the arc.

The Thunder managed only five offensive rebounds — but it won the second-chance points battle, 8-7.

The Pelicans committed eight offensive fouls, a sign of the stout defense the Thunder played.

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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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