(furiously wipes sweat from brow)
The New Orleans Pelicans beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 118-114 Wednesday night, escaping a near late collapse. The Pels are now at 10 games of up and down play, answering every loss with a win. The Thunder fell to 17-9, still one of the best records in the NBA.
Anthony Davis was, well, special. He scored 44 points on 16-of-32 shooting from the field and 11-of-11 from the free throw line, grabbing 18 rebounds along the way against one of the league’s burliest in Steven Adams (20 points, 7-9 FGs). Jrue Holiday had 20 points and 10 assists, but two HUGE turnovers down the stretch nearly cost the Pelicans dearly.
Up seven with about 70 seconds left, Jrue was left alone. With All-Defensive First Team-caliber Paul George (25 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists) in front of him, Jrue played right into the hands of a trapping OKC defense which resulted in a steal to get Russell Westbrook a dunk. The defense was executed so seamlessly, it appeared pre-ordained. But hey, that’s just one possession, right?
We still got this.
Then, with another chance to salt the game away, Jrue drove and Russell Westbrook got a finger on the ball to end in another turnover, which was converted into a Paul George and-1 fastbreak layup with 48.9 seconds left to make it a 2-point game.
A hectic Pels possession led to a missed AD floater, and OKC was able to corral the rebound to get the Thunder on the run. This time, though, Jrue flipped the script and forced an OKC timeout with a terrific defensive stop on PG13.
After Solomon Hill tipped the inbounds pass (he had an excellent defensive game), Westbrook missed a three-pointer and Julius Randle (22 points, 12 rebounds), who sat most of the defining moments of the 4th quarter, grabbed the rebound and took the foul with 10 seconds to go. All Juju had to do was make two free throws and this thing would be over...
But hey: YGTMYFT (NOP made 24 of 30 on the night, OKC was just 17 of 27).
After both free throws stayed out, OKC had the ball down two with 9.7 seconds to go.
Westbrook got a screen, made his way near the paint almost untouched and found a semi-open Alex Abrines on the wing for the win, but his shot as contested pretty well by Randle and missed — Pelicans fans were able to go home happy!
The Thunder went with a pick and roll to get Westbrook going to the rim. Instead of challenging AD, he kicks to Abrines who has a look. Great close out by Randle changes his line of sight and causes him to just miss. Solo grabs the board and seals the game. Good win for the Pels. pic.twitter.com/yp1oscZp61— David M. Grubb (@DMGrubb) December 13, 2018
I’ve been sweating just re-living those last 10 possessions.
Let’s go back to the first 24 minutes.
The Pelicans got good first halves from Davis (18 points eight rebounds), Holiday (14 points, five assists) and Randle (12 points) with dynamic contributions in playmaking and floorplay by our favorite little man Tim Frazier (six points, five rebounds, five assists).
They ended the first half with an exciting, yet somehow ho-hum alley-oop to Davis.
Generally, a Thunder game features incredible stats by Russell Westbrook, but tonight he got off to a rough start, recording five turnovers in the first half and just one made field goal in only four attempts. He is taking a slight backseat, at least compared to previous years, in terms of his usage, thanks to the addition of Dennis Schroder, elevated play from Paul George and an increasing role in the offense for Steven Adams. And those five first half turnovers were pretty ugly — some of his games recently have been stinkers by his standards — but he’s been okay easing off the gas pedal. Mr. #WhyNot finished with 20 points, six rebounds, seven assists, four steals, two blocks and seven turnovers.
And speaking of pace: Tim Frazier! As Pelicans fans know, he’s always on the move and always seems to be around the ball. Then, when he feeds Randle or Davis in the post, Frazier is one of the team’s headiest and quickest cutters, opening up offense from what was a standstill. One of AD’s one-handed slams was due to Frazier simply sprinting up the court, a dunk that gave him a quick and seemingly easy 30 points with more than three minutes left in the third quarter. Frazier finished with six points, nine rebounds and nine assists: nice.
Davis’ efforts and the engagement of his teammates allowed the offense to continue churning in the second half, despite facing the league’s best defense.
Up five after three quarters, the Pelicans started the final stanza without their All-World Big Man, hoping they could stave off a comeback by a solid OKC bench, led by Dennis Schroder, who had 24 points, including a season-high four made 3-pointers.
A few minutes in, this happened:
What a tough shot!
Later, Westbrook hit a three and all the sudden it was a three-point game with about nine minutes to go and AD was back in. The former MVP got better as the game got deeper, but he, PG, Adams and Schroder couldn’t get over the hump.
Those 44 points were a season-high for Davis, who got to the 40-point mark on a left-handed push shot. Again: wow!
Darius Miller played most of the important 4th quarter minutes and it worked out just fine! He occupied space for other guys to operate so it was nice to see him get winning time minutes where his value hasn’t been higher.
First quarter minutes for the Pelicans’ Harrison Twin seemed odd. Andrew finished with one assist in about six minutes of play. However, during pre-game media, Alvin Gentry did make a comment that he needs to start dialing back the minutes of Holiday and Davis. If that was the plan, success — at least for Jrue (34 minutes) but not AD (40 minutes).
Frank Jackson played 19 minutes and scored eight points. He looked fine in a highly competitive, up-tempo game against a top-rated opponent. Call it a win for Harrison, Miller, Diallo and Jackson, although I prefer the OKC bench of Schroder, Nerlens Noel, Abrines, Hamidou Diallo and Patrick Patterson all day... Then again, the Pelicans were without three key guys in Nikola Mirotic, E’Twaun Moore and Elfrid Payton!!!
Gotta get in just one Steven Adams highlight: a no dribble eurostep. Nice, mate!
Steven Adams with the Euro Step pic.twitter.com/BeuvAXG9uT— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) December 13, 2018
The Pelicans play again at SKC, 6 p.m. on Sunday against the Miami Heat. Until then, keep it here for all your Pelicans news and opinions!