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Pelicans lose cool, drop game to Thunder, 108-100

“We have to keep our composure. Our margin for error is too small to do what we did tonight.”

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

“At least they tried.”

Once again, that’s about all you can say after the New Orleans Pelicans lost to the lowly Oklahoma City Thunder at home 108-100.

The Pelicans lost their eight straight game overall, and their fifth straight at the Smoothie King Center.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker broke out of his extended scoring slump and picked up his second double-double of the campaign with a season-high 33 points to go with 10 rebounds and four assists.

Jonas Valanciunas is no stranger to double-doubles, collecting his 10th in a row after scoring 25 points and grabbing 15 boards. Devonte’ Graham was the only other player for the Pelicans in double figures, adding 18 points on the night.

Josh Hart was ejected in the first half for arguing with officials. The Pelicans earned a total of five technical fouls in the game.

“Our guys thought they got fouled, and we didn’t get the call,” Willie Green said in postgame. “However, we’re not going to get those calls. We haven’t earned them, so what are we complaining about? Until we earn it, we’re not going to get that. That’s the deal. I talked to our guys about it. We have to keep our composure. Our margin for error is too small to do what we did tonight.”

Attempting to pin this one on the absences of Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram just doesn’t work in this situation.

The Pelicans don’t have the luxury of players not giving smart, consistent effort each night. Tonight, too many didn’t and head coach Willie Green sent a strong message to his players afterward.

“It’s this game,” Green emphasized. “It’s not the losing streak. It’s not one quarter. It (was) our approach to this game. There were moments in the game where we had guys on the floor that just didn’t compete hard enough for me (and) hard enough for our team, and that’s a non-negotiable one for me. That’s the deal. That’s where we are. As the leader of this team, I can’t have that. I can’t have guys on the floor if they’re not going to give 110%.”

Oklahoma City is one of the few teams in the league with worse offensive numbers than the Pelicans, having topped 100 points only three times this season.

The Thunder have the league’s youngest roster, and have been in the midst of a complete rebuild since they made the playoffs after the 2019-20 season.

As much talent as the Pelicans are missing, they should be able, they HAVE to be able to beat a team like the Thunder at home.

While the raw numbers may make it seem like New Orleans lost this game by not being able to execute in the fourth quarter, the fact is that they were outscored 57-40 over the second and third quarters.

They were down by as many as 21 points to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Once again the Pelicans offense was limited by players unable to beat their defender off the dribble, poor shot selection, and an inability to finish around the rim.

On defense, New Orleans allowed the Thunder’s role players to step up and support their lone star, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

SGA, who finished with 24 points, seven boards, five assists, and two blocks, was at his best in the third quarter. He scored or assisted on 18 points in the period, 16 of those coming during the last 4:27 as OKC closed on an 18-3 run to take a 14-point lead into the fourth.

The Pelicans trailed by 21 with just under eight minutes to play, but finished the game with a 25-12 burst to make the game seem closer than it really was.

It’s hard to see where the Pelicans next win may come from.

They round out this three-game home stand with the Brookly Nets and Memphis Grizzlies, before hitting the road to play the Washington Wizards, and Miami Heat.

Since the Benson’s took over as owners of the Hornets/Pelicans, the team has started poorly more often than not. Those poor starts never turned around.

At this rate, New Orleans has a chance to match the worst 20-game start in the past decade, 4-16 to open the 2011-12 season.

The time for excuses is over.

There’s a big difference between playing basketball and playing winning basketball. The Pelicans had better figure it out quickly, because effort isn’t enough.

Not anymore.

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @DMGrubb.