The New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder both entered Saturday’s game sporting matching 1-4 records. They arrived to this same spot in different ways though, with the Pelicans playing with one of the NBA’s worst defenses, and the Thunder one of its worst offenses. Somehow, the Pelicans managed to reverse those roles in a 115-104 defeat that was potentially more damaging to the team than just adding another notch in the loss column.
Brandon Ingram, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, left the contest after posting seven points and four rebounds in 13 minutes with an unspecified head injury in the second quarter. Alvin Gentry was unable to provide any additional information to postgame media.
Josh Hart, who started the second half at small forward in Ingram’s absence, filled in admirably with 12 points and a season-high 15 rebounds. Jahlil Okafor joined him in the double-double club, putting up 15 and 12 with a pair of blocked shots. JJ Redick scored a season-high 17 points, making four three-pointers.
Looking at the box score, one might believe that New Orleans was in this game, that it had a legitimate chance to win. The Pelicans outrebounded OKC 56-44, and they outscored the Thunder in the paint 52-46. Typically, those have been the most damaging factors for New Orleans, but the Pelicans did most of the damage to themselves on this night.
Jrue Holiday continued his early-season struggles. Holiday needed 15 shots to score 16 points, and has yet to break the 20-point barrier after four games.
Lonzo Ball again showed flashes of brilliance with his passing and defense, but still appears to struggle with the confidence to attack the rim when he has an advantage. He filled the stat sheet with 10 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, and three steals, but his five turnovers were more than he had in his previous three games combined. His 2-for-7 performance inside the three-point line was made worse by his indecision at the point of attack in the half court.
Jaxson Hayes was a non-factor offensively, and a negative on defense. His greatest NBA skill at the moment may be his ability to pick up fouls.
Nicolo Melli seems to be trying to play himself out of the rotation with each passing game. He didn’t take or make many shots, and was a disaster defensively.
Kenrich Williams continued to hustle, but without much to show for it.
Just as the win over Denver was a total team effort, so was this loss.
Oklahoma City put up its second-highest point total of the season, while holding New Orleans to its lowest. Every one of their starters shot better than 50 percent from the floor, with rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leading the way with 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting.
Chris Paul added 15 points and a season-high nine assists, Danilo Galinari scored 16, and Nerlens Noel blocked six shots in only 23 minutes.
The Thunder got career-best nights from role players like Darius Bazley. Bazley, a rookie averaging 2.6 points and 3.6 rebounds, posted 17 and five in just 18 minutes. Reserve guard Denis Schröder had 17 points and nine boards. The Thunder was +20 with him on the floor.
OKC took advantage of 17 Pelicans turnovers, scoring 23 points off of New Orleans miscues. The Thunder entered the game with five quarters where they scored at least 30 points. They did that in each of the first two quarters of the game.
Without Ingram on the floor to create for himself, the Thunder were able to limit the Pels to 44 second-half points. And without the pace that is generated both by scoring and good defense, the Pelicans were essentially destined to lose this game.
Since Alvin Gentry took over in the 2015-16, the Pelicans are now 41-139 in games where they score fewer than 110 points.
Depending on Ingram’s status, scoring points could become a problem that New Orleans didn’t anticipate having, even with the absence of Zion Williamson and Derrick Favors.
Instead of putting together a winning streak after beating the Denver Nuggets on Thursday, the Pelicans will be trying to prevent a losing streak as their brief road trip continues to Brooklyn for a Monday night meeting with the Nets.
Ingram or no Ingram, the New Orleans Pelicans are going to have a hard time winning games as long as they continue to defend as poorly as they have, and as long as their leader continues his search for consistency.
Let’s hope Jrue finds himself in Brooklyn, and that the Pelicans find their way back into the win column.