On Thursday, the New Orleans Pelicans (23-34) defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder (41-17), 123-119. Anthony Davis led the way for New Orleans, finishing with 30 points, six rebounds, two assists and four blocks. Kevin Durant scored 32 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out 7 assists for the Oklahoma City Thunder. With the victory, the Pelicans are just 5.5 games out of the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference.
The Pelicans won?! This is both surprising, based on the talent discrepancy on paper, and yet, not surprising because the Pelicans have won plenty of games where it looked like they had no chance this season. The Pelicans have the innate ability to look like worldbeaters on random nights, and tonight, they showed up against the third-best team in the Western Conference while their two best players - two of the best seven players in the NBA - combined for 76 points.
As the score would indicate, this was a shootout. Both teams left their defense outside the arena and went back and forth, dashing and smashing each other's defenses. The Thunder shot a blistering 54 percent from the field, but the Pelicans came back shooting 52 percent. A lot of that was the Westbrook, Durant, Serge Ibaka troika. Westbrook and Durant got anywhere they wanted on the floor, while Ibaka, ever the underrated one, cleaned up for the rare mistakes and converted on some easy attempts within 15 feet.
Anthony Davis (30 points) looked good, but there were times where he wasn't part of the offense, often drifting as others initiated offense for themselves. In this instance, it was a good thing as Norris Cole and Toney Douglas both caught fire at various points in this game. Cole led the charge, knocking in the first nine Pelican points, en route to a 21-point effort.
Toney Douglas almost became a folk hero with the way he knocked down the three in the fourth quarter. Douglas finished with just 12 points, but he hit some huge shots in the fourth quarter as New Orleans kept the Thunder two possessions away.
The biggest X-Factor for New Orleans was scoring in the Enes Kanter minutes. Kanter is a good offensive player, but is, to put it mildly, an awful defender. A -18 plus/minus for Kanter is a good thing because it indicates that the Pelicans were able to attack and thrive offensively while the big man was on the floor. Ryan Anderson was critical in exploiting Kanter's weak points, even though they weren't matched up much together. Anderson finished with 26 points and when his minutes came against their second unit, made them pay.
This is a good win for New Orleans, even though it hurts the ping-pong balls. In a down year, it shows that this team has something. As New Orleans goes through another metamorphosis with its roster this offseason, knowing that Davis and Holiday having good games, combined with other solid players, can equal a victory over Oklahoma City. Things need to be addressed, but overall, a good win for a team who had some bad news earlier in the day (more on that in a bit.)
- *Tre from Boyz In The Hood voice* BDJ!!!!!!!! Injuries suck, but I was bummed when I saw that Bryce Dejean-Jones would be out six to eight weeks with a broken wrist. He was the last player I wanted to see injured for a myriad of reasons. Most importantly, he needed to remain healthy so he prove himself as a player and a future rotation piece. I'm glad he got some money heading into next season, and I guess we have to wait until Summer League to see more from Dejean-Jones.
- No disrespect to Luke Babbitt, but if he's not going to play much, why not let him go and sign another wing player to a 10-day contract? You can never have too many players who can stretch the floor and defend the perimeter, so why not try to take another shot? Sean Kilpatrick is out there, so is Jordan McRae. In a season where the playoffs seem unlikely, I would take another shot on a D-League acquisition and hope to hit another single.
- Eric Gordon is coming back at some point (rumored to be this Saturday), which would be perfect for New Orleans. Defensively, I think the Pelicans can hide him a bit, but his ability to space the floor and provide the Pelicans with another knockdown shooter will be much needed. Not to mention, it's a contract year for Eric Gordon, so a bit more incentive for him to return and play well.
- Foul trouble aside, Jrue Holiday finished with 22 points, nine assists, and a +8. David suggested that the Pelicans should allocate some of their 2016 cap space towards extending Holiday and I wouldn't be opposed to a two-year extension. It's clear that Davis and Holiday are the two pillars you want to add to, so keeping them together and not having to worry about 2017 free agency seems like a good idea to me.
- In (to me) a losing season, you always want to see some different things that can help for next year. For me, it's Dante Cunningham and his attempt to space the floor. He can do the small things and defend the three and four a little bit, but if I'm Alvin Gentry, I'm pushing him to shoot at least two 3-pointers a game. Provides more value from Cunningham as a reserve next season.