With a little over six minutes left on the clock before halftime, Aaron Wiggins nearly came up with a steal of Josh Hart on three separate occasions during the same New Orleans possession — displaying precisely the greater amount of tenacity and fight by OKC through most of the first half.
Lu Dort and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, in particular, were defensive monsters, hounding the Pelicans into multiple turnovers that led to easy scores for the Thunder.
Conversely, New Orleans failed to match their opponent’s energy level and found themselves behind by double digits quickly, falling behind 17-3 after a 15-0 OKC run.
But the writing on the wall appeared shortly after Wiggins tormented Hart, in the form of an ominous tweet regarding Brandon Ingram.
Brandon Ingram (Left Achilles Soreness) will not return to tonight’s game— Pelicans PR (@PelicansPR) December 27, 2021
“I just saw him kind of limping,” Willie Green said in postgame. “He was wincing and I asked him if he was okay. He asked for a sub so we got him out right away.”
Green also stated that he had no prior knowledge of the left Achilles bothering his All-Star before tonight. Ingram will undergo imagining so more should be revealed soon.
The Pelicans were without three of their top four scorers after Ingram was forced to leave at the 3:17 mark of the first quarter. As it’s become customary, though, the rest of the roster didn’t lay down.
Garret Temple got hot and paced New Orleans with 15 points on 6-11 shooting in the first half. What was once a 17-point disadvantage became a much more manageable 57-49 deficit at halftime because reserves like Jaxson Hayes and Tomas Satoransky also contributed positively.
The Pelicans stopped committing a lot of turnovers after the first quarter and then Josh Hart put the team on his back to open the third. Honestly, there were moments where it felt like he was everywhere. The box score confirmed this notion: 11 points, four rebounds, two assists, three steals and not a miss from the field or free throw line.
With 8:18 left in the fourth quarter, a Willy Hernangomez bucket gave the Pelicans a 92-91 lead. Both teams continued to tussle after that, but New Orleans always seemingly needed to play catch-up. Then an opportunity presented itself.
Dort was whistled for a charge with 2:32 left in regulation. Replay added a Flagrant 1 call because referees witnessed Dort’s elbow come in contact with Devonte’ Graham’s face, drawing some blood from his chin. Graham sank both free throws and the Pelicans kept the ball in a two-possession game. Then the following occurred while the Thunder failed to build onto their lead:
- Herb Jones narrowly missed a good look from 3
- Trey Murphy missed a wide open 3
- Hart had a lay-in roll off the edge of the rim
Three great chances to make things a lot more interesting, but none of those shots went down. And that was symbolic of the night as the Pelicans finished with a 41.5 field goal percentage and a 24.4 3-point percentage.
Hart finished with 29 points, one off his career high, and 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals and three 3s. Temple scored 22 points off the bench, a new season high, adding also six rebounds and a couple of 3s. Jones and Graham scored 15 points apiece and Hernangomez added 14.
On the other side of the coin, Ingram failed to register a single point in his nine minutes of action, and Trey Murphy missed all six of his 3-point attempts. The rookie out of Virginia has now made just one 3 in his last 19 attempts.
Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 31 points, five assists and three blocks, and Wiggins had 24 points and six rebounds.
Outside of the first 18 minutes, the Pelicans played reasonably well, but when you’re without Zion Williamson, Jonas Valanciunas, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Ingram and trailing by 15 points, things have to go pretty much according to plan in order to eke out a victory.
It didn’t work out like that tonight.