NEW ORLEANS (AP) Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jalen Williams was on his hands and knees after taking a hard shot to the eye on the opening possession of a pivotal playoff game.

By the third quarter, Williams was draining a pair of 3-pointers during a 9-0 run that had the New Orleans Pelicans reeling.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 24 points, Williams and Josh Giddey each had 21 and the Thunder beat the Pelicans 106-85 on Saturday to take a 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series.

“Dub's very talented,” Gilgeous-Alexander said of Williams, who has averaged about 20 points in the series and scored 13 of his Game 3 points in the second half. “He was clearly big tonight, very impressive and nothing we're not used to.”

The top-seeded Thunder entered the playoffs answering a lot of questions about the relative youth and inexperience on its roster - and that appeared justified after a two -point escape at home in Game 1 against the eighth-seeded Pelicans.

Since then, the Thunder have posted victory margins of 32 in Game 2 and 21 in Game 3, in no small part because of a relentless defensive effort that has kept the Pelicans to 92 or fewer points in all three games of the series.

“We were ready to play,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “Our physicality again, our defense and focus on that end of the floor was really, really good, made them earn everything. And I thought that set the tone.”

Oklahoma City hit 17 of 36 (47.2%) from 3-point range and held a lead of 10 points or more throughout the second half, going up by as many as 24 in the fourth quarter. By then, a contingent of Thunder fans could be heard chanting, “OKC! OKC!” as New Orleans fans filed out.

“We adjusted really well to the flow of the game. We got good looks,” Giddey said. “They threw a lot of different looks at us but we've got a lot of weapons on the floor at all times. So, guys made the right play, the extra pass.”

The Pelicans, who've been without star forward Zion Williamson during the series because of his hamstring injury, will try to avoid elimination at home in Game 4 on Monday night.

“It’s not over,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said of his message to the team. "Look, we’ve got another game here at home and we’re not going to fix all of our issues tonight. Go home, have a good meal and we’ll come back (Sunday) and practice and go over what we need to do and get ready for the next game.”

History is not on their side. No team in NBA history has come back from a 3-0 series deficit.

“You can’t take your foot off the gas no matter what the lead is in a series,” Giddey said. “Neither team looks at this series as over.”

Brandon Ingram scored 19 points and CJ McCollum had 16 for New Orleans, which struggled to hit from the perimeter and to take care of the ball.

The Pelicans, who shot just 27.7% from 3-point range during the series' first two games combined, improved only marginally in their return home, hitting 28.1% (9 of 32). New Orleans also turned the ball over 21 times, leading to 23 Thunder points.

The game began ominously for the Thunder when Williams took a forearm to the face from Ingram while attempting a driving floater and fell to his hands and knees.

No foul was called on the collision, which sent Williams to the locker room for much of the first quarter before he checked back in late in the period.

The game was competitive until the Thunder went on a 14-0 run in the second quarter that gave Oklahoma City a 54-39 lead.

The surge began with a 3 by Gilgeous-Alexander before Lu Dort connected on three straight from deep.

“I’m sure us turning the ball over didn’t help," said Pelicans wing Trey Murphy III, who scored 10 points. “Then they were just moving the ball really well and we had some defensive breakdowns. They were making shots and capitalizing off of our mistakes.”

After McCollum's 3 cut the Pelicans' deficit to 12, they had a chance to get closer in the final seconds of the half, but Gilgeous-Alexander stole the ball from McCollum and was fouled.

Gilgeous-Alexander hit two free throws to give the Thunder a 60-46 lead at halftime.



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