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Pelicans remain allergic to clutch minutes, drop 107-104 contest to Thunder to lose fifth straight game

The final stretch continues to haunt New Orleans.

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

New Orleans (6-14) dropped its fifth-straight contest in a difficult 107-104 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder at home Sunday evening behind Danilo Gallinari’s 23-point, 11-rebound night.

The second matchup of this home-and-home with OKC offered no extra favors compared to the first. Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry noted he’s never experienced anything more frustrating in his 30-plus years around the league than the late-game struggles this team has endured. But this one didn’t quite get off to the best of starts, either.

Oklahoma City couldn’t miss out of the gates, hitting nearly every shot, controlling the glass and getting the ball inside to Gallinari and Steven Adams early and often. New Orleans fared well to escape the first frame down only four, and a patented Jrue Holiday step-back three as time expired didn’t hurt the cause.

The Thunder opened the second quarter on a 6-0 run, but the Pelicans outscored OKC 26-17 in the first half beyond that point. Holiday and Redick combined for 27 of the Pelicans’ first 55 points on 10-of-13 shooting (Redick without missing a shot). Once a fourteen-point deficit was down to just one at intermission with a chance to talk things over.

Nearly nine minutes left in the third quarter, New Orleans took its first lead of the night thanks to a Brandon Ingram jumper. Holiday, who scored a game-high 26 points, contributed 10 points in the third alone. However, the Thunder still ended the period with a five-point edge. The Pelicans converted on 42.9 percent of their 28 three-point attempts and led in fast break points 17-2, but the group had combined for only five free throw attempts prior to the fourth quarter. Even matching that total in the following 12 minutes did little to close an obvious discrepancy.

“I don’t understand how they can shoot 39 shots in the paint and shoot 26 free throws, and we can shoot 37 shots in the paint but shoot 10 [at the line],” Gentry said. “I don’t see how that can happen. We’re taking the ball to the basket just like they are. Other than that, we’ve just got to close games.”

Albeit unrewarded, Josh Hart made a valiant effort late on his way to an eight-point fourth quarter and his third double-double of the season. Ingram put up seven points in the same span to end his night at 20 points, seven boards and four assists. Staples of the first half, Redick and Holiday, added just two points combined down the final stretch.

The Pelicans and Thunder were tied at 94 with three minutes and change left to play: Out of a timeout, Holiday watched his step-back jumper fall short as CP3 drained a fade away on the other end. Ingram fed Jaxson Hayes inside on the ensuing possession, but a tree disguised in orange was there to deny him. Adams followed the block by drawing a foul and converting on a pair of free throws. Now the Pelicans trailed by four once again less than a minute later — a stretch they were unable to recover from before the final buzzer.

Lonzo Ball returned to the starting lineup after missing two games with a stomach virus. Ball offered 14 points (4/8 3PT, 6p in 4Q), seven dimes and four rebounds along with his perspective on the recent clutch-minute crumbles throughout while he was sidelined.

“It’s been like this all year,” Ball said. “We keep talking about it. We’re doing the things to put us in a position to win, and we’re kind of giving the game away in the last three minutes. It’s stops, it’s getting the best shot and just being poised down the stretch.”

New Orleans has two more chances ahead on their home court to right the ship. MVP candidate Luka Doncic and the Mavericks comes to town Tuesday followed by the Suns on Thursday night. Tip-off against Dallas is set for 6:30 PM CT.