Russell Westbrook ties a career-high with 45 points, including 11 in the final quarter to lead the Oklahoma City Thunder over the New Orleans Pelicans 102-91. He also tallied six rebounds and six assists. For the Pelicans, Anthony Davis finished with 23 points, eight rebounds, and two assists.
Well, that stunk. I was preparing this beautiful soliloquy about how the Pelicans are on fire, winning five of their six games at home, using their homecourt advantage to take another great win and seize the season series over the Thunder. In our last roundtable, I placed New Orleans' playoff chances at 30%, but I was ready to explain how now I believe more than ever. It was all in the cards.
Alas, it was not meant to be.
Here’s the thing: It was almost to be. The first half was almost perfect for New Orleans. Offensively, the numbers weren’t great – 46.0% from the floor, 30.8% from three – but it was spread out among nine scoring players. Anthony Davis wasn’t shooting the ball well, but led the charge with 12 points and four rebounds. Alongside Davis, three players (Pondexter, Anderson, and Evans) all had at least seven points.
Along with their offense, the defense did a great job of stopping Oklahoma City’s secondary options. Westbrook went into the half with 25 points on 11-15 shooting, but the rest of the team went 13-29 from the floor and 0-5 from three. Keeping their other options like Dion Waiters, Serge Ibaka and Anthony Morrow locked up allowed the Pelicans to walk into the locker room with a six-point lead.
The third quarter, however, was where we saw the first bit of the breakdown for New Orleans. It started off well – Eric Gordon came off a screen for an easy three-pointer, then Tyreke Evans made an acrobatic layup. The Pelicans kicked the lead to eight and we seemed on the verge of a blowout. The Pelicans had Oklahoma City in the palm of their hands, and they didn't really look dominant neither.
Then, the game slowed down a bit on the offensive end. The ball movement that once resulted in easy baskets for the Pelicans, was now a rare occurrence and only got more noticeable as the quarter continued. The once steady bench in the first half went cold, and the Thunder began to get easier shots, thanks to Russell Westbrook’s stop-and-pop jumper and a resurgence of Serge Ibaka, who scored 11 points in the quarter with a combination of easy finishes at the basket and a couple jumpers.
The fourth quarter was where the Pelicans finally went completely in the tank. Offensively, the funk from the third quarter bled into the fourth and their shots were well off. Going 6/25 in the fourth, Ryan Anderson and Tyreke Evans went 1-11 in the quarter and the chances of victory were bleak. Anthony Davis scored just four points in the fourth, while Anderson finished the quarter with a team-leading five points.
Along with Westbrook, who scored the last nine points for Oklahoma City, remained ablaze, and Anthony Morrow sunk two threes – including a killer three from just a step out of bounds, to sink the Pelicans. Their 57.9% shooting in the fourth quarter allowed the Thunder to not only defeat the Pelicans, but win by double digits.
· 15-46 shooting from the floor in the second half. Yep, that will do it.
· A smidgen of Russell Westbrook appreciation: He’s pretty good. He terrorized Tyreke Evans on the offensive end and moved the ball well. As a high volume guard, Westbrook had six turnovers, but the six assists and 45 points on 18-31 shooting was incredible.
· A thought: There were some tough stretches for the New Orleans to score with Asik and Cunningham out there. For Asik, it was tough on both ends. Five points and seven rebounds are fine on the surface, but in that third quarter breakdown, Asik, and Davis to a degree, allowed some bad offensive rebounds for Ibaka and Adams to score.
· Hey, Quincy Pondexter played really well and I wouldn’t be mad if the Pelicans made a switch once Holiday came back. Holiday, Gordon, Pondexter, Davis, and Asik gives you a nice balance of offense and defense out there, while not crippling your bench.
· Gordon and Evans –8/32 from the floor? Not good. 14 combined assists, 10 rebounds and just three turnovers. I’m with it.
While this was a disappointing loss, it wasn’t a crippling one for New Orleans. The next game is against a familiar foe – Oklahoma City. Grabbing a win against the Thunder in Oklahoma City negates this one for me, and still, the Pelicans are winners of six of their last eight games. Let’s start a new winning streak. Go Pels.