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New Orleans Pelicans notch biggest win of young season, coming back to beat Oklahoma City Thunder, 114-107

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A DeMarcus Cousins ejection seemed to spur the Pelicans to the come-from-behind victory.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

After getting word on Sunday that Anthony Davis would be ready to play in the Pelicans next game, after hearing Tony Allen would return from his four-game hiatus, and after watching the coaching staff replace Dante Cunningham with E’Twaun Moore in the starting lineup, one had the sense New Orleans might be in prime position for a much needed victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Six minutes into the game, the Pelicans trailed 25-6 and the bad loss to the Denver Nuggets was the only thing at the forefront of all onlooking minds.

Interestingly, the Pelicans spent the rest of the first half battling back to make the deficit a manageable eight points at intermission — the same difference witnessed at halftime in Denver.

Deja vu?

Hardly.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

As to where the Pelicans fell apart after Davis was knocked out of Friday’s game following a blow to the head from Nikola Jokic in the third quarter, New Orleans fought through the adversity this time round — after DeMarcus Cousins was ejected with a flagrant 2 foul on Russell Westbrook.

Trailing 77-72 at the time, the Pelicans went on to outscore the Thunder by a 42-30 margin. New Orleans dominated nearly all of the statistics and held the vaunted combination of Westbrook-Carmelo-PGIII to a meager 16 points, on 4-15 shooting, while forcing six turnovers to boot.

Prior to tonight’s game, Head Coach Alvin Gentry mentioned the Pelicans need to do a better job defensively going forward.

“Overall, we’ve got to do a better job on individual defense,” said Gentry. “We’ve got to do a better job on our team defense. Just the isolation stuff – the cutting, the back cutting – we’ve just got to get better at it.”

As our very own David Fisher described in good detail earlier today, the Pelicans have been all kinds of awful on the defensive side of the ball over the last six games, allowing opponents to combine for a 58.2 effective field goal percentage — the worst mark in the league during this span.

In the first half, the Thunder scorched the nets at a 57.0 eFG% clip; in the second half, the rate dropped precipitously, all the way down to a 38.5 eFG%. Although Paul George seemed to make every three-pointer he took throughout, Carmelo Anthony turned cold and Westbrook entered the deepest of freezes.

On the other side of the ball, the Pelicans sizzled over the final 24 minutes of the clock, against the 3rd-best defensive team in the league no less. No New Orleans perimeter player posted anything worse than a 58.3 eFG%, helping offset the two superstars’ marks hovering around a 40.0 eFG%.

When asked about the play of the bench — who combined for 26 points and missed just four of 15 shots on the night, Jameer Nelson downplayed this fact and gave credit to the entire team.

“It is a team effort, said Nelson. “We all play a part, not one guy or two guys but everyone who steps on the floor. The starters played well too. We just didn’t get off to a good start. Once everything got going, I think everybody did a great job.”

Regardless of who deserves the most acclaim, this win over the Thunder felt good. Damn good. Although their 7-8 record entering the Smoothie King Center was nothing to write home about, it’s apparent OKC oozes talent and it won’t be long before their three stars figure out how to close games and shoot up the Western Conference standings.

Player Notes

  • Anthony Davis was running on fumes for much of the fourth quarter — he played the entire second half and 45 minutes overall, but he refused to let the team lose. Over the final five minutes he scored a team-best seven points and grabbed four rebounds to finish with 36 points and 15 rebounds. He also made an astounding 18 of 22 free throws.
  • Before exiting, DeMarcus Cousins tallied 18 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals. As for his ejection, I can somewhat understand the call, but I don’t like it because there is no doubt in my mind Westbrook flopped to a good degree on the play in question.
  • Jrue Holiday was steady — but that’s a compliment as he’s had trouble sustaining production from quarter to quarter in most games. He totaled 18 points, but my favorite two was his driving layup after the Pelicans were down 25-6. It seemed to send a message that he was determined to not quit despite the team falling behind by a significant margin early for a second consecutive game.
  • Darius Miller is quickly becoming one of my favorite players. Once again he was incredibly proficient from deep, but it was his seven rebounds and four assists that should have you really excited. Putting aside his occasional defensive miscues, a small forward who is producing stats across the board and making runners like this?!
  • After missing the last four games, Tony Allen reminded us that he is pure unadulterated fun. His style of play is infectious and he dropped my favorite line of the night in post-game comments: “When you have a guy like myself talking in the huddle and guys buying in, it carries over on the court. Each guy, they want to win. I think today put the stamp on (how) to win ball games and that is on the defensive end.”
  • Too many compared the plus/minus statistics of Rajon Rondo and Jameer Nelson on the night. Each player is very different in what they bring to the table, but both skillsets are extremely necessary. Nelson can run a team, but his best contributions are from a scoring standpoint. How about this shot just moments after Cousins was ejected?
  • Meanwhile, Rondo can keep an offense from sputtering despite tired legs, despite being down a superstar. I mean, how did he see this assist?!

Up next, the Pelicans welcome the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday. The game will tip-off at 7:00 pm. See you there and Geaux Pels!