OKC’s Chet Holmgren Ready to Get Physical With 260-Pound Bruiser

Chet Holmgren

Getty Chet Holmgren impresses in his playoff debut

Chet Holmgren is ready for some old-school basketball down low as he and the Oklahoma City Thunder engage in what is expected to be a rough first-round series with the New Orleans Pelicans.

Holmgren, 21, is making his playoff debut with the Thunder after missing the entire 2022-23 season due to a foot injury (Lisfranc) he suffered in a Pro-Am game in the offseason.

Despite coming off surgery, the former No.2 overall pick proved skeptics questioning his durability wrong after playing all 82 regular-season games for the Thunder.

He averaged 16.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 29.4 minutes per contest while shooting 53 FG%, 37 3PT%, and 79FT% as a rookie.

Holmgren has also earned the respect of his peers and fans because of his willingness to go up against grown men on both ends, matching their physicality despite his lanky 7-foot-11, 207-pound frame.

His effort has also made him an effective defensive anchor for the Thunder, leading his team with 2.3 blocks per game and a 108.4 defensive rating.

However, Holmgren recognizes that he and his teammates must prepare for a completely different ball game because the intensity and physicality increase significantly in the playoffs.

The young big man said he is looking forward to his matchup with Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas, who will present a tough test for the Thunder inside the paint because of his sheer size advantage and bruising playing style.

“I’m expecting him [Valanciunas] to be extremely physical throughout the series and we’ll be prepared for that, Holmgren told reporters via Clemente Almanza of Thunderwire.com.

Holmgren vs. Valanciunas Matchup

Despite losing Zion Williamson to a hamstring injury, the Pelicans offer several big, athletic players who can make driving lanes tougher to penetrate for the Thunder throughout the series. And Valanciunas is one of them.

Standing at 6-foot-11, 265-pound, the 31-year-old Valanciunas has been an imposing presence for the Pelicans over the last three seasons.

Although his numbers have significantly dropped this season, the big man still plays a crucial role for the Pelicans as their starting center.

Valanciunas averaged 12.2 points and 8.8 assists in 29 minutes per game in the regular season, per ESPN stats. He also shot a team-best 55.9% from the field with almost a block per game.

In the three games he matched up against Holmgren, Valanciunas averaged almost similar numbers with 13.0 points and 8.0 rebounds.

Surprisingly, the Thunder center outperformed his regular-season averages in the three games he matched against Valanciunas. He posted 18.3 points and 11.0 rebounds while shooting 55.8 percent from the floor in 33.7 minutes per game.

Holmgren Shines in Game 1

The Thunder drew first blood in the best-of-seven series with the Pelicans after eking out a 94-92 victory in Game 1 last April 21 at Paycom Center.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander once again led his team with 28 points on 11-for-28 shooting. He also converted the most crucial shot of the game – a 13-foot floater that put the Thunder ahead by two, 92-90, with 32.1 ticks left on the clock.

Holmgren also dazzled in his playoff debut, tallying 15 points on 6-for-14 shooting with 11 rebounds and 5 blocks. Meanwhile, Valanciunas grabbed 20 rebounds and added 13 points in a losing effort.

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