The New Orleans Pelicans arrived in Oklahoma City on the heels of a 111-86 loss Tuesday to the Suns, but no comparisons could be made to that debacle after their performance on New Year’s Eve.
After seizing a 32-28 lead at end of the first quarter, the Pelicans never looked back, proceeding to thoroughly overshadow the Thunder en route to a 113-80 win — the 3rd largest road win in New Orleans franchise history.
Despite the fact that no one believes the Thunder, who are in a rebuild year, are a formidable opponent, they had played well before Thursday evening. The season is incredibly young so all teams can be expected to bring good effort regardless of playoff aspirations.
Adding to the impressive nature of their lopsided victory, the Pelicans controlled the action without being able to overly rely on their two most highly regarded players. Zion Williamson (12 points, five rebounds) struggled with foul trouble, appearing in only 17 minutes of action, and Brandon Ingram (20 points, seven rebounds, two threes) was ejected following this block attempt of Isaiah Roby in the third quarter.
Brandon Ingram was ejected for this. pic.twitter.com/hLTw8icNeZ— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) January 1, 2021
Looks like a play on the basketball, right? Ingram swung hard, sure, but his intent was to hit the ball — as evidenced by first contacting it before Roby’s head; nevertheless, a Flagrant 2 was the referee’s decision and BI headed for the locker room. Apparently, there’s no wiggle room in the NBA rules now when it comes to contacting a player’s head with another’s arm in the fashion witnessed.
At the time, New Orleans had a 77-67 lead and many fans wondered how the Pelicans would react. Well, the loss of their best offensive weapon didn’t derail them. The Pelicans went on to finish the game on a 36-13 run, including a 28-7 drubbing of the Thunder in the fourth quarter.
The Pelicans have given up a combined 18 points in their last two fourth quarters.— Andrew Lopez (@_Andrew_Lopez) January 1, 2021
The 7 points allowed in the fourth quarter is tied for the fewest points ever allowed in a quarter in franchise history.
3Q - 7, at HOU, 12-29-02
4Q - 7, at HOU, 2-13-12
With the New Orleans cornerstones combining for only 43 minutes, the rest of the Pelicans did a great job of taking turns stepping up in their absences.
Lonzo Ball was probably my favorite performer on the night. Yes, he filled up the box score (16 points, eight rebounds, nine assists) and I thought he was instrumental in New Orleans keeping their foot on the gas after Ingram’s ejection, but his defense was simply spectacular. Seemingly on every trip down the court for the Thunder, he was seen invading someone’s air space. No one felt that pressure more than Zo’s defensive assignment, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who finished with easily his worst statistical game of the season (eight points on 3-10 shooting).
Steven Adams (14 points, 10 rebounds) dominated the action on both ends in the first quarter, reflecting the team’s aggressive mentality out of the gates well. His eight-point, four-rebound frame paced the Pelicans to snare the points in the paint battle easily after the first twelve minutes, 20-6.
In the second quarter, Eric Bledsoe (17 points, three rebounds, two threes) came alive, scoring 10 points as he aggressively took the ball to the rim and found success. He exhibited a lot more confidence throughout, knocking down 7 of 11 field goal attempts and not registering a single turnover.
Stan Van Gundy went to seldom-used Nickeil Alexander-Walker at the start of the second quarter and the young player didn’t disappoint, finishing with 14 points, three rebounds and two steals. NAW displayed a well-balanced approach that worked beautifully, attacking the paint steadily but not solely looking to shoot on every touch while on the floor.
One has to believe that he’s on the verge of becoming a rotation mainstay because when he’s received minutes this season, he’s had good results.
Through halftime of this OKC-Pelicans matchup, Nickeil Alexander-Walker has appeared in 33 minutes on the 2020-21 season. Here's the total stat line:— Oleh Kosel (@OlehKosel) January 1, 2021
Josh Hart followed up Adams’ double-double with one of his own, scoring 12 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. He also knocked down three 3-pointers to lead New Orleans’ barrage from deep.
For just the second time in five games, the Pelicans finished with a respectable average from behind the arc, making 13 of 36 shots (36.1%). Let’s hope this becomes a thing.
JJ Redick (1-4 shooting) failed to find the range once again, but there were a few faint hints of life from Nicolo Melli (five points, three assists) and Jaxson Hayes (six rebounds, two blocks).
The Pelicans dominated the glass (58-40), the points in the paint (54-30) and kept turnovers to a minimum with only 13 miscues. Just a good, all-around team effort.
Can’t wait to see what’s in store for the 3-2 Pelicans in 2021.
Happy New Year, everyone!