Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) drives past New...

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) drives past New Orleans Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas, left, and forward Herbert Jones (5) in the first half of Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Oklahoma City. Credit: AP/Kyle Phillips

OKLAHOMA CITY — Hours after the NBA announced Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was selected as a finalist for the league’s Most Valuable Player award, Oklahoma City's All-Star guard showed why.

Gilgeous-Alexander scored 28 points, including the go-ahead basket in the final minute, and the top-seeded Thunder edged the New Orleans Pelicans 94-92 in Game 1 of their first-round Western Conference playoff series Sunday night.

New Orleans' CJ McCollum missed a leaning 3-pointer in the closing seconds and the Thunder held on to win their first home playoff game since 2019.

“I thought we showed great grit down the stretch," Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. "Obviously, that was a tight game. It was a bit of a brawl for both teams offensively. And we made plays defensively down the stretch — big time plays — and had the resolve to go in and win the game.”

Jalen Williams scored 19 points and Chet Holmgren added 15 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks for the Thunder, who will host Game 2 on Wednesday night.

Trey Murphy III scored 21 points, McCollum had 20 and Jonas Valanciunas added 13 points and 20 rebounds for the Pelicans. Zion Williamson, New Orleans’ leading scorer in the regular season, sat out with a strained left hamstring.

Gilgeous-Alexander made an off-balance jumper in the paint with 32.5 seconds left to break a 90-all tie and was fouled on the play. With the crowd chanting “M-V-P!” Gilgeous-Alexander made the free throw to put Oklahoma City ahead 93-90.

New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14) tries to block...

New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14) tries to block a shot by Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) in the first half of Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Oklahoma City. Credit: AP/Kyle Phillips

“I set a screen on the ball," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "And they switched on Dub (Williams). And then I just caught the ball at the elbow and just tried to be aggressive and make a play that I’ve made before.”

McCollum's mid-range jumper made it 93-92.

Holmgren was fouled with 14 seconds left. He missed the first free throw and made the second to put the Thunder ahead 94-92 and set up McCollum's final shot. Thunder rookie Cason Wallace forced him to scramble and take a difficult shot.

“I got the switch," McCollum said. "I should have attacked a little earlier, a little faster. But credit, it was good defense. ... I thought it was cash and I missed it long.”

New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14) tries to block...

New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14) tries to block a shot by Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) in the first half of Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Oklahoma City. Credit: AP/Kyle Phillips

The energy from the Oklahoma City fans — most wearing white Thunder T-shirts — was off the charts, and Holmgren brought them to a fever pitch by opening the scoring with a 3-pointer.

“It was amazing," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "They were exactly what I expected. ... They were perfect.”

The game was tied at 17 at the end of the first quarter and tied at 43 at halftime. The Thunder held New Orleans to 34% shooting in the first half, but missed a lot of open shots. Gilgeous-Alexander scored 11 points before the break.

New Orleans led 50-48 in the third quarter before the Thunder went on an 11-0 run over a three-minute span that put them up 59-50.

New Orleans recovered to briefly take the lead, but Oklahoma City closed the third quarter strong. Isaiah Joe hit a 3-pointer with 6.6 seconds left in the quarter to put the Thunder up 74-68 heading into the fourth.

New Orleans missed several opportunities to seize control in the final quarter.

“We had quality shots coming down the stretch that we just didn’t make, and it came down to the final play," Pelicans coach Willie Green said. "Our guys fought all night. Defense was solid. Game plan was executed at a high level. We’ve got to knock down some shots.”

It was a defensive battle between teams that both averaged more than 115 points in the regular season.

“This is what it’s going to be,” Green said. “We’re physical with them, they’re physical with us and that’s a part of the game. That’s a part of playoff basketball.”

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