Yesterday morning, I was feeling like a shorthanded Pelicans team would likely struggle to keep pace with the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, as my day developed I began to have a better feeling about this match up. It started with memories of that classic buzzer-beating win in 2015 which propelled the New Orleans into the playoffs for the first time since the Chris Paul era.
But it wasn’t just that.
Anthony Davis had a chance to take his claim of the franchise leading scorer spot with 32 points. Knowing the Pelicans would be shorthanded, knowing Davis was hearing questions of his effort after the Kings debacle, knowing that he knew help in the form of Nikola Mirotic was on the way and knowing he wouldn’t want this huge moment in his career to be marred by a loss, I started to believe that he’d not only get the record, but that he’d go bigger — and that the team would need him too.
Excited to join the New Orleans @PelicansNBA organization as I begin my next chapter in my NBA career. I’m ready to get started, join my new teammates and most importantly help the team bring some playoff wins to #NOLA this season. #DoItBig #Pelicans #MiroticWay☦— Nikola Mirotic (@threekola) February 2, 2018
Pelicans likely need him to score 40. https://t.co/G3bSRJvhMM— Kevin Barrios (@kevinbforbounce) February 2, 2018
Also, we knew that the Thunder were coming off of a heartbreaking loss in Denver, where Gary Harris hit the game winner while wearing Paul George’s signature shoes to put a shit ribbon on a pretty exhausting road trip — despite that narrative that traveling doesn’t matter.
Right after Paul George extracts the soul out of the Pepsi Center, GARY HARRIS AT THE BUZZER— Synchrowob (@World_Wide_Wob) February 2, 2018
Nuggets win game of the year candidate pic.twitter.com/mKGEcCnxZh
YOOOOOO peep the shoes too!!!!! Lmaoooo pic.twitter.com/2fBdsDzmkN— RJ Da Juiceman (@OG_ManTrain) February 2, 2018
All of this had me feeling really bold in a DM chat with Oleh Kosel and Preston Ellis, but not bold enough to give put it out in the general public yet. I was ready for their ribbing — not yours.
Then I saw AD’s shoes and I knew. They were, “I’m about to be the franchise leader in Points, Rebounds and Blocks at the age of 24” fresh.
This would be a game that would be sloppy at times and poorly officiated at times, but never lack energy, excitement or action. It was filled with drives to the rim, pick and rolls, alley-oops, big dunks, Jrue Holiday being a defensive force and big three point buckets.
The much-maligned Rajon Rondo provided some instant impact in one of his best performances of the season with a strip of Russell Westbrook that bounced into the hands of Jrue Holiday who opened up the scoring on a transition step-back three.
Jrue immediately displayed his real value in this game by forcing Paul George into a turnover in back-to-back turned over possessions for the Thunder. Holiday would stay in George’s head all night like Jim Halpert earworming The Cardigans’ “Lovefool” into Karen Filippelli’s head with the help of Andy Bernard — PG13 would finish 4/16 from the field with two turnovers and a negative 11 plus/minus (and if memory serves correctly only two of those makes came with Holiday on the court).
Always interesting to see how teams match up on D against Thunder. Cunningham draws Carmelo, as he's done often with #Pelicans. Rondo guards Westbrook; Davis playing mostly in the paint defending Adams. Jrue is a smaller SG, but draws Paul George, one of #NBA biggest wings— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) February 3, 2018
E’Twaun Moore would get struck by a flint from three shortly after and stay ignited the entire contest. Jrue would then find a cutting Davis with a beautiful pass for one of Davis’ seemingly hundreds of dunks.
Despite some early turnovers, the Pelicans’ energy was evident.
#Pelicans off to a good start leading the Thunder 10-4 with 8:07 left in the 1st.— Daniel Sallerson (@dsallerson) February 3, 2018
After starting their scoring with two threes, the Pelicans were living inside of the arc, and were running more pick and rolls than I can remember them running this season — if you follow my writing or my Twitter account, you know this is something I’ve been begging for. Kumar agrees.
The Pelicans are running more pick and roll now than they were at any point in the season. Jrue and Rondo are benefitting as it's more natural for them to playmake out of it. Hopefully Pels keep hitting shots.— Kumar (@FearTheBrown) February 3, 2018
That hope I had earlier was growing, but doubt would set in as Moore picked up a second quick foul and Ian Clark would take his place.
#Pelicans can't afford foul trouble tonight, with only 10 players in uniform. Bench consists of Clark, Darius Miller, Cheick Diallo and two-way contract signees Mike James and Charles Cooke https://t.co/VvbQm9KE2e— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) February 3, 2018
This doubt was immediately justified.
Rondo would create another turnover leading to a possession filled with beautiful ball movement as the Pelicans swung it all over the court, but a once beautiful possession would end with an absurd double dribble by Clark. Also, some tough defensive possessions would crop up where Carmelo Anthony got a favorable switch with Rondo guarding him and ate him up for a bucket. Shortly after, Westbrook would barrel through Rajon for a three-point play. However, Jrue would find Davis again for an awkward alley-oop tip in before getting some rest. Immediately, the Thunder would go on a 7-0 run with Jrue on the bench, including a Melo strip of Rondo that resulted in a huge dunk from Russ, followed by a huge dunk from Steven Adams off of another Pelicans turnover.
Dunks are happening.— Brett Dawson (@BDawsonWrites) February 3, 2018
Darius would end the bleeding with a pull up long two. Questionable officiating would rear its head when Paul George traveled by spinning into Dante Cunningham in the lane, drawing a blocking call on Dante.
#Pelicans not pleased with foul call against Cunningham, where Paul George spun blindly in lane, a bit out of control. OKC 22-16 in 1Q— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) February 3, 2018
Davis would close out the 1st quarter tentatively, settling for long twos as he was seemingly scared of Adams under the rim early on — a fear that was rationalized when AD did try to attack only to have Adams block his attempt at the basket.
The momentum was with the Thunder.
However, Holiday would return and bring much needed intensity on the defensive end. We would see the classic bigger man thinks he has an advantage on a smaller guard as Carmelo tried to attack Jrue in the post. He’d fail on his first attempt that was well contested by Holiday, but Anthony would stick with it and eventually get a tip in — rebounding was a huge advantage for the Thunder early.
Rebounding was a major issue Tuesday vs. Kings (Sac led 26-0 in second-chance pts) and it was glaring again in 1Q. OKC outrebounded #Pelicans 18-9, led by five boards by Westbrook. Cheick Diallo couple good moments late 1Q, including swat of Carmelo on layup— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) February 3, 2018
In the last 5 quarters the #Pelicans have been outscored 33-0 in 2nd chance points.— Daniel Sallerson (@dsallerson) February 3, 2018
Jrue would get revenge later when he and Cheick Diallo would team up to block Melo at the basket. However, Dante would bobble a pass in transition and the Thunder would get an easy cherry-picked bucket because Anthony never made an attempt to get back on defense. As disheartening as possessions like this are, we were seeing positive Diallo minutes — minutes that were filled with hustle and energy.
Diallo does a good job of running the floor and gets an easy layup. Follows it up with a block on a layup attempt by Carmelo. That's what Gentry wants to start seeing from his young big man— Will Guillory (@WillGuillory) February 3, 2018
The first quarter would end with Jrue locking up PG-13 preventing a shot at the buzzer.
Thunder lead 32-22 after one. Westbrook 7-5-6, Melo 9, George 2 (0-4 shooting).— Royce Young (@royceyoung) February 3, 2018
The second quarter would have an ominous start.
Diallo turned the ball over and Jerami Grant got free for an alley-oop from the ghost of Raymond Felton. Jrue would continue to attack the basket, but he couldn’t convert. Holiday struggled to score tonight (33.3% from the field), but his impact was felt on the defensive end and as a shot creator (11 assists), leading to his team best +32 plus/minus.
Felton the Flabby Ghost hit a floater next in the lane over Diallo, who didn’t even get a hand up — the ups and downs of a young player with extremely limited basketball experience — giving OKC a 16-point lead after capitalizing off of numerous Pelicans turnovers.
It looked like we were on our way to the logical fan and writer’s prediction of how this game was going to go. However, E’Twaun Moore would return and he and Darius Miller would show why they are two of the most efficient scorers in the league.
E’Twaun, Steph and a buncha big men who basically only shoot at the rim in the top 7 of eFG% he’s getting back to his ways. Also shoutout Darius Miller top 10 in True Shooting% and Mirotic 15 #TrustDell pic.twitter.com/YTymxmIGEr— #InDellWeTrust (@JayDogon) February 3, 2018
Moore floater. Miller three. Moore pull-up. Moore extremely tough three to cut the OKC lead to 8.
Moore is channeling Ray Allen— Ryan Hebert (@RyanHebert89) February 3, 2018
However, the Pelicans would hit another lull — a turnover gifted Steven Adams an easy bucket. This bucket gave the Thunder a 17-3 advantage in points off of turnovers. The Pelicans were their own worst enemies. Anthony Davis was showing frustration with no-calls in the paint. Josh Huestis would seemingly block Davis’ shot by putting his arm through the rim — something the officials would completely miss.
Looked like OKC's Josh Huestis went up through the rim to block a dunk attempt by Anthony Davis on an alley oop. #Pelicans spent part of timeout arguing that play, but refs may have just missed it— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) February 3, 2018
Alvin Gentry wasn’t having it.
Technical on Alvin Gentry.— Brett Dawson (@BDawsonWrites) February 3, 2018
Adams and Westbrook would connect on an alley-oop rooted in on-court chemistry.
Pretty cool to watch Westbrook and Adams draw that lob play up on the fly. They had a quick discussion as Adams inbounded, then Westbrook directed traffic telling everyone where to be as he walked it up.— Royce Young (@royceyoung) February 3, 2018
The momentum Moore and Miller had swung on the back of Jrue’s tireless defense was starting to erode. However, Mike James would snag a rebound off of a Rajon Rondo missed three and find Davis for a big dunk.
While Adams was doing a good job on Davis for most of the first half, you could see AD was starting to take this one on his back. He’d battle for a board and his fight would be rewarded with a foul. Then Rondo would find him for another dunk. Russ would answer with one of his own.
Something light from Russ pic.twitter.com/EvTdB1LgyM— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 3, 2018
However, while Davis was taking over — Moore was taking a brief break from greatness. He’d have a step on the baseline turnover and then he’d pick up the Pels’ 10th turnover with a travel.
OKC outscoring NOLA 34-24 in the paint, 9-2 in second-chance points, 20-11 in fastbreak points and 19-5 in points off turnovers.— Brett Dawson (@BDawsonWrites) February 3, 2018
Still, the Pelicans would not go away. Rondo would get a chance for a three-point play that stayed a two (free throw shooting was scarce and poor — 69.2% on 13 attempts for the contest). Dante Cunningham would break character and give the Pels second chance points — yes, he got a rebound — DRINK!!! E’Twaun would made up for his momentary lapse into a turnover machine with great defense on Steven Adams creating a transition alley-oop. 6-point game. Then Moore would get a layup in transition. 4-point game.
How are we only down by 4— Ryan Hebert (@RyanHebert89) February 3, 2018
The Thunder would exploit Moore’s lack of size and get a baseline dunk from Jerami Grant. Davis would convert two at the line keeping the deficit at 4.
Pels with a VERY nice run here to end the first half.— Gus Kattengell (@Gkatt_17) February 3, 2018
End of the 1st half: Pelicans down against the Thunder, 58-54. Davis 18 points and 5 rebounds, Moore 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting.— Will Guillory (@WillGuillory) February 3, 2018
Pels showing some fight after falling behind by 16
We were all feeling good, but you couldn’t blame us for also being cautious.
I think the Thunder are gonna fold in the 3rd. Question is, will the Pels also?— Kumar (@FearTheBrown) February 3, 2018
Despite well deserved doubts, the game was riveting. Even the halftime show would provide drama.
omg this kid who flew in and tackled Burnie after Burnie took out his teammate can play on my team ANY damn day pic.twitter.com/Ge1f3jDbgl— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) February 3, 2018
The dreaded third quarter would open with Westbrook and Davis exchanging dunks. Jrue would continue to dominate Paul George — completely taking him out of his game. AD forced OKC into an extremely quick timeout off an emphatic dunk — inching up the franchise scoring leader board.
Davis needs 14 more points to move up to No.1 on the Pelicans' scoring list— Will Guillory (@WillGuillory) February 3, 2018
Take: if AD dunks on every Pelicans possession of the second half, they will beat the Thunder.— Mason Ginsberg (@MasonGinsberg) February 3, 2018
Billy Donovan doesn't like these Anthony Davis dunks. OKC lead is 60-58 and he wants an early second-half timeout, 11:11 3Q.— Brett Dawson (@BDawsonWrites) February 3, 2018
After the timeout, Rondo fills in admirably for DeMarcus Cousins, picking up a charge on Carmelo Anthony — which gets Melo a tech...that Holiday misses. However, E’Twaun is still engulfed in flames.
Moore hits a 3 and he has 22 on the night -- his 8th 20-point game of the season— Will Guillory (@WillGuillory) February 3, 2018
Dating back to the last 4 minutes of the 2Q, this is a 28-8 Pelicans run.— Brett Dawson (@BDawsonWrites) February 3, 2018
After an Oklahoma City turnover, Dante Cunningham benefits from beautiful passing in transition for a great finish. Pels up 63-60.
Rondo tied for a game-high 11 dimes with 4:38 left in the 3rd qtr. #DoItBig— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) February 3, 2018
Holiday, again, smothers PG-13 on defense.
After scoring 43 on 19-26 shooting last night, Paul George has 5 on 1-8 midway through the third.— Royce Young (@royceyoung) February 3, 2018
Jrue then blows by George to finish at the rim. Moore follows that up with another dagger three.
The Pelicans would continue to control the tempo and momentum. Rondo would find Davis on another alley-oop. Jrue would get to the rim. Westbrook blew what would have been a top 10 dunk of the night by clanging it off of the rim.
Pels ran a really good play for Jrue earlier. Easy layup— Kumar (@FearTheBrown) February 3, 2018
Lifelong Pelican nemesis Alex Abrines would stem the tide, hitting a three to cut the Pelicans’ lead to 10. AD would answer right back with a three of his own.
With Jrue Holiday getting a breather, Paul George would would find some room and answer with a three of his own. Then he’d follow up a classic E’Twaun Moore floater with another easy bucket.
Jrue has been in PG13s head. He got comfortable with Jrue on the bench. Hope he hasn’t gotten going.— Kevin Barrios (@kevinbforbounce) February 3, 2018
Darius would negate the damage with a catch-and-shoot three off of a cross court feed from Rondo — who had his best game in a very a long time.
Nice passing tonight. More than that, nice eyes.— 42, Ph.D. (@42PhD) February 3, 2018
Pick up the rebounding.
Westbrook was having an empty calorie triple double, and Melo and George were shells of their best selves.
Has made George and Melo look silly at times tonight— Ryan Hebert (@RyanHebert89) February 3, 2018
However, Steven Adams continued to cause problems for New Orleans in the paint.
Steven Adams is getting exceptionally good position in the paint (19 pts, 8 reb) on catches. He's also dislodged Anthony Davis a couple times as he ran into the post, but they're not calling it. Davis 3 fouls. NOP 82-78 late 3Q— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) February 3, 2018
In the second half, we were also treated to more good minutes from Cheick Diallo. He’d get a smooth finger roll and-1 off of a Holiday assist.
Diallo with back-to-back baskets and his and-one gives New Orleans an 87-79 lead— Will Guillory (@WillGuillory) February 3, 2018
Y’all happy about the Diallo show yet or naw? Because I’m ready to ask @kevinbforbounce to do that thing where he ask y’all to name 5 Diallo songs.— Chris Conner (@Impatientbull) February 3, 2018
The Pelicans finally put together a third quarter you can bring home to your mother.
#Pelicans points, past five third quarters.— Christian Boutwell (@_CBoutwell) February 3, 2018
vs. CHA: 20
vs. HOU: 24
vs. LAC: 15
vs. SAC: 23
Today at OKC: 36
NOLA's best 3Q in a while.
Best New Orleans Pelicans third quarter in terms of point differential (+11) since 12/23/17 against the Miami Heat.— Oleh Kosel (@OlehKosel) February 3, 2018
After a fast paced and dramatic third, could a shorthanded Pelicans squad keep playing with this energy?
Abrines opened the scoring with a three. Darius answered right back. Anthony Davis would begin his fourth quarter dominance and march into the history books by abusing Patrick Patterson. However, Diallo didn’t get the memo that you are supposed to ride your star down the stretch and cutely stole a rebound from AD.
Davis hits a floater and he's 3 points away from the franchise scoring mark. Pels lead 95-86 with 10:39 left— Will Guillory (@WillGuillory) February 3, 2018
Don’t need a Monroe if you have a Diallo. pic.twitter.com/E1t7tfItgB— Chris Conner (@Impatientbull) February 3, 2018
Gotta love the activity Diallo has played with tonight. Pels needed him tonight and he's stepped up. He's up to 7 points and 8 rebounds in 13 minutes— Will Guillory (@WillGuillory) February 3, 2018
Patrick Patterson took Davis’ abuse very poorly and put up back-to-back air balls. Joel Meyers pulled no punches.
"he's due to at least hit the rim... No"— Ed Matthews (@LAedward00) February 3, 2018
Jrue extends the lead by charging to the rim off of a Davis screen.
Pels up 97-86, their largest lead of the game. OKC has looked lost on offense— Will Guillory (@WillGuillory) February 3, 2018
The Ghost of Raymond Felton gets frustrated and is handed a tech. Davis converts.
We made a technical free throw for what seems like the first time this season— Ryan Hebert (@RyanHebert89) February 3, 2018
This leads to the moment that everyone who skipped parades because ball is life was waiting for.
Anthony Davis, a 24-year-old known for his eyebrows, just became the #Pelicans all-time leading scorer in 150 fewer games than David West.— Christian Boutwell (@_CBoutwell) February 3, 2018
With 32 points today vs. OKC, AD is now NOLA's all-time leading scorer and rebounder. pic.twitter.com/ubNVVpWoZy
Following history being written, Patterson is still rattled and misses badly. Adams camps in the paint, and shoves Rondo in the back for an offensive rebound put-back that is rewarded with a foul. Ball didn’t lie.
Come on. You miss the 3 seconds on Adams. Miss him shoving Rondo. But call it on AD?— Kumar (@FearTheBrown) February 3, 2018
Westbrook gives the Pelicans a break by not attacking a rim begging to be assaulted and turning the ball over for a transition alley-oop from Jrue to Davis off of the Rondo hockey assist.
Westbrook has played a strange, awkward last few minutes.— Royce Young (@royceyoung) February 3, 2018
Rondo then follows this up with a monologue of a corner three — no basketball players were even in the frame.
Rajon Rondo hasn't played a ton in 4Q in recent games but he just made a big three-pointer from right side. #Pelicans 105-96 with 5:01 left. Rondo 7 pts, 13 assists— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) February 3, 2018
Despite a few missed bunnies from the Pels and some questionable calls, New Orleans continued to stiff arm the Thunder.
Turnovers, missed lay-ins and friendly referee whistles yet OKC can't make a dent in the Pelicans lead.— Oleh Kosel (@OlehKosel) February 3, 2018
Pels lead 105-97 with 3:19 left. AD 34 points and 9 rebounds, Moore 26, Rondo 13 assists— Will Guillory (@WillGuillory) February 3, 2018
After a huge offensive foul on Carmelo Anthony, Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis would run a pick and roll to get Jrue an easy lay in. Russ would answer with a pull up three that gave Thunder fans hope. Davis would immediately crush that hope with a three of his own.
He’d then team up with Dante to strip Adams. The ball would end up in E’Twaun’s hands and Davis would bury the Thunder like he did in 2015 with another three pointer. 114-110.
Davis with back-to-back 3s to put the icing on this one. Pels up 113-100 with 1:03 left. Davis has 42 points and 9 rebounds. Huge performance from the Pelicans' leader— Will Guillory (@WillGuillory) February 3, 2018
Anthony Davis. The Franchise. With no regard for opponents. Brow down.— Kumar (@FearTheBrown) February 3, 2018
That’s a hell of a performance from the #Pelicans tonight.— Scott Kushner (@ScottDKushner) February 3, 2018
A strong statement of what they’re still capable of without DeMarcus Cousins, bouncing back in a big way after two flat outings.
This was a game of heart, heart that was questioned after the loss to Sacramento. While Davis will deservedly get the headlines and glory for his scoring, it was the Pelicans’ defense that carried this team to victory — a defense that was anchored by Jrue Holiday. A defense that held the Thunder to 100 points on 38% shooting — just 25% from deep — despite giving up numerous easy points off of turnovers in the first half and 15 offensive rebounds. Holiday continued to make his case for an All-Defense honor with a textbook performance.
Also, E’Twaun Moore and Darius Miller were snipers tonight regaining that December stroke. Even the oft maligned Dante Cunningham and the previously uncooked Cheick Diallo made key plays.
This was a total team win.
A signature win.
A win that I believe we will look back on — not only for the history made, but also as playoff spots are seeded — much like in 2015 — as a season changing victory.
Next up, we hope to carry this momentum over into Minnesota where we will be met by reinforcements — Nikola Mirotic — let’s start the 3Kola era off with some deserved payback.