Three things we learned as the Pelicans stifled the Kings to face the Thunder in the NBA playoffs

Written by Will Guillory, Anthony Slater and Alex Andreev

Even without their star player, Zion Williamson, the New Orleans Pelicans completed a 105-98 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Friday in the NBA championship game, snapping a series win against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. Meanwhile, the Kings are eliminated from postseason contention.

With Williamson out due to a left hamstring injury during Tuesday's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Pelicans relied on their depth. Six New Orleans players — Brandon Ingram, Jonas Valancinas, Trey Murphy III, Larry Nance Jr., Najee Marshall and Jose Alvarado — recorded double-digit numbers. Ingram led the Pelicans with 24 points, while Valancinas (19 points) added 12 rebounds.

The Pelicans regained momentum in the second quarter and took a 54-45 lead into halftime after committing six turnovers in the first quarter. Sacramento pulled within seven points late in the third, but New Orleans continued to limit the Kings' offense, led by De'Aaron Fox, who scored a game-high 35 points. Domantas Sabonis added 23 points and 14 rebounds for Sacramento, but the team lacked the overall chemistry of New Orleans on Friday, and the lead swelled to 20 points with less than seven minutes left.

New Orleans shot 51.8 percent from the field compared to 40.9 percent for Sacramento. The Bills also shot 36.8 percent from 3, while the Kings shot 26.8 percent from behind the arc.

New Orleans, which earned eighth place with the win, will play Oklahoma City in the first game on Sunday.

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What worked in New Orleans?

Despite Williamson's absence, the Pelicans were able to pick up their sixth win over the Kings of the year and earn a spot in the playoffs. Ingram had a strong night — recording 24 points, six rebounds and six assists — after being benched in the fourth quarter of Tuesday's loss to the Lakers. His decision making on the offensive end was outstanding most of the night.

He also got a lot of help from his teammates. Marshall, Alvarado, Nance, and Murphy all provided good minutes. Valančiūnas also held his own in his fight with Sabonis. With Williamson expected to miss at least the first few games of the series against OKC, New Orleans will need others to continue to elevate BI and CJ McCollum if this team has any chance of spooking the No. 1 seed. -Will Guillory, Pelicans staff writer

What went wrong in Sacramento?

a lot. Three nights after crushing the Golden State Warriors from deep, the Kings are making 11 of 39 from 3 as a team. Keegan Murray, who struck out eight against the Warriors, scored just two of seven and briefly left with a groin issue after an ugly slide and spin. They were outscored in the paint 56-42, giving up several open dunks in the halfcourt. They flipped it over 15 times. They missed seven free throws. Keion Ellis, Tuesday's hero, was held scoreless in 27 minutes and was minus-20. -Anthony Slater, Warriors senior writer

What does this mean for kings?

The 46-win season won't end in a playoff spot. This was still the second most successful year for the Kings in the last 18 years. Fox and Sabonis were fringe All-NBA candidates. Murray has taken a defensive leap and has a bright future as a two-way winger. Ellis is finding a deal. Coach Mike Brown has built a respectful culture. But there are legitimate questions about the ultimate ceiling for this core in a tough conference. Could they re-sign Malik Monk this summer? Can they use their picks to get a bigger piece via trade? Can they get the offense back to a more potent level while maintaining their defensive improvement? These are off-season questions. Off season here. — Slater

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(Photo: Stephen Law/USA Today)

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