New Orleans Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas (17) is defended by...

New Orleans Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas (17) is defended by Oklahoma City Thunder forward Chet Holmgren (7) during the first half in Game 2 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Oklahoma City. Credit: AP/Nate Billings

OKLAHOMA CITY — Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren won his center matchup with Jonas Valanciunas and helped Oklahoma City beat the New Orleans Pelicans 124-92 in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series Wednesday night.

Holmgren had 26 points and seven rebounds as the Thunder took a 2-0 lead. He made 9 of 13 field goals to support Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's 33-point effort.

“He was really good," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "He was in the actions, got out of them and then put their defense in a bind almost all of the night. And he was making shots, putting it down. He was A-plus tonight, for sure.”

Valanciunas scored 11 points in the first three minutes but did little damage after that. He finished with 19 points and seven rebounds.

The two offer contrasting styles.

Holmgren, listed as 7-foot-1 and a slender 208 pounds, is the new-age center who shoots 3-pointers and can defend any position. He's a finalist for Rookie of the Year and one of the league's best shot blockers.

Valanciunas is a 7-foot, 270-pound traditional big man. He's a hulking presence who is at his best punishing opponents near the hoop.

New Orleans Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas, right, shoots a reverse...

New Orleans Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas, right, shoots a reverse shot against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Chet Holmgren (7) during the first half in Game 2 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Oklahoma City. Credit: AP/Nate Billings

Valanciunas made 5 of 7 field goals in the first quarter, but 3 of 7 the rest of the game.

“Obviously, he’s a good player and he’s confident in his ability,” Holmgren said. “They’re going to him in the post, trying to have him make some plays down there, and it’s my job to make those plays as tough as possible. He’s a good player. I’m not going to shut him out on a decent amount of touches. So I've just got to make those as hard as possible and it’ll work out in our favor if I do my job.”

Holmgren struggled at times with the matchup in Game 1, a 94-92 win for Oklahoma City. Though he had 15 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks that night, Valanciunas had 13 points and 20 rebounds, including nine offensive boards.

Early in Game 2, while Valanciunas was doing damage in the paint, Holmgren was stretching the defense. He scored 13 points in the first seven minutes, including three 3-pointers. His 15 points in the first quarter were the most any Thunder rookie has scored in any quarter of a playoff game.

New Orleans Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas (17) grabs the ball...

New Orleans Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas (17) grabs the ball in front of Oklahoma City Thunder forward Chet Holmgren, back, during the first half in Game 2 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Oklahoma City. Credit: AP/Nate Billings

In Game 1, Holmgren opened the scoring with a 3-pointer, then missed his next six shots. In Game 2, he went 5-for-5 from the field in the opening quarter.

“In the first game, I hit my first one and then threw up like four bricks after that," he said. “So I just wanted to come out ready tonight to make my shots and capitalize on the advantages that we have out there.”

Holmgren helped set the tone with his willingness to mix it up with Valanciunas. When he wasn't making 3-pointers, he was standing up to his much stronger opponent in the paint and using his long arms to help limit Valanciunas to two offensive rebounds.

“They came out physical," Valanciunas said. "They were aggressors. So we kind of — I don’t know what to say. Like, we didn’t expect them to play that way, and that’s on us. It’s not acceptable. It was a shame today.”

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