New Orleans kept it close, until Kevin Durant decided he had had enough. With the loss, the Hornets concede the season series to the Thunder, 1-3. Needless to say, that could have major playoff implications.
The Hornets did a reasonable job weathering the absence of Chris Paul in the first half. Not only did the team hold things together, they rallied to take the lead before Chris Paul finally returned to the court from the locker room, via the stationary bike. But Trevor Ariza's absence coupled with Durant's incredible stroke conspired to crush the Hornets in the second half.
- While David West shot reasonably well from range, he missed a number of easy looks in the paint and at the rim. Serge Ibaka's interior presence obviously played a huge role, but West's inside performance was not what we've come to expect.
- That said, DX did a great job on the defensive glass. For a second straight night, New Orleans made sure that they got after opposition missed shots despite the absence of Emeka Okafor.
- And staying on the subject of our frontcourt- how about David Andersen? In his brief time in the NBA (91 games), Andersen has been a very solid defensive rebounder. If he can continue to knock shots down like he did tonight and make spot defensive contributions (by my count, he had 1 block and 2 deflections), he'll prove a valuable asset down the stretch.
- Quincy Pondexter took over the offense for a stretch in the fourth quarter. He knocked down a three, he knocked down a deep fading two, he crossed over and tossed in a floater over a shot blocker, and he made a nice move on Kevin Durant to earn a trip to the free throw line. This is the Quincy Pondexter we were all so excited about on draft night. A terrific step forward in his young career tonight.
- Oklahoma City's second biggest weapon was its ability to get to the foul line. Yes, Durant took 10+ trips, but it was a team effort for the Thunder. OKC got 10 free throw attempts from its second unit, and overall, took 1 free throw for every three field goals it attempted.
- Monty Williams' decision to bench Marco Belinelli at the start of the second half is sure to raise a few eyebrows. Belinelli seemed to have his offensive rhythm, especially in the first quarter. If the logic was to increase the team's defensive efficiency, it didn't really work out; New Orleans struggled mightily in quarters 3 and 4 on the defensive end with Belinelli (and Ariza, obviously) on the bench.
- Another interesting strategy was the Hornet zone in the second half. Obviously, New Orleans had no elite man defender to put on Kevin Durant with Ariza gone (Pondexter attempted to guard Durant one on one in the third quarter, but with minimal success), but the zone seemed to make Durant's job (floating to open space, shooting) much easier.
- It's obvious how much Ariza and Emeka Okafor mean to our West-leading defensive efficiency. If the Hornets are to win without those two guys, they'll need to pick up the offense. Tonight, in a game that was played at New Orleans' slow, methodical pace, that simply did not happen.