Pelicans.com postgame: Pelicans 105, Thunder 102
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
TULSA - It’s always dangerous to make sweeping assessments off a preseason game, but in Thursday’s matchup against Oklahoma City, New Orleans demonstrated several qualities that could make it a much improved team in 2013-14. Western Conference power Oklahoma City shot 49 percent from the floor and was a scorching 12-for-23 from three-point range, but New Orleans still hung around all night and prevailed in the final minutes. Last season’s hard-working but undertalented New Orleans club would’ve had little chance of even being in this game, but the revamped Pelicans now have a multitude of offensive weapons. Five different New Orleans players scored at least 12 points in the victory.
Eric Gordon led the quintet with 21 points, an outstanding first preseason game for the starting shooting guard. Gordon’s top offensive game in all of 2012-13 was 27 points. He played just 21 minutes against the Thunder, but showed quickness and an ability to get into the lane, resulting in a 7-for-8 performance from the foul line.
“It felt good,” Gordon said of playing in an NBA game for the first time since April. “The one thing I was worried about was getting my legs (under me). They did feel heavy a little bit after, but it was a good team win. I’m just trying to get into a groove. This is the first time I’ve been healthy in a while. I expect to do more and do better. I’m going to really try to put it together and look forward to helping our team win.”
The Pelicans (5-0 in preseason) knocked the Thunder (3-1) from unbeaten status also behind quality performances by Anthony Davis (18 points), Ryan Anderson (18 points), Brian Roberts (14 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter) and Al-Farouq Aminu (12 points). Gordon scored all 21 of his points in the first three quarters; Monty Williams said he did not want Gordon to log 30-plus minutes in his return to action.
Jrue Holiday distributed eight assists for a Pelicans offense that followed Gordon’s early lead by repeatedly getting to the basket against the Thunder. New Orleans finished with 44 points in the paint on 22-for-36 shooting and also went 24-for-30 on free throws.
“He’s tough,” Holiday said of Gordon, his anticipated fellow backcourt starter. “It’s like he doesn’t see anybody in front of him (when he penetrates). He’s really smooth, and you can tell his body’s really strong. He doesn’t let (a defender) come and hit him; he hits them first.”
For the third time in the past four games, Roberts helped close the victory for New Orleans with late-game clutch play. The undrafted second-year point guard netted 17 points in the fourth quarter of Game 2 vs. Dallas, then followed that up with 10 in the fourth in Game 3 vs. Orlando. His 10-point final period vs. Oklahoma City featured a pair of key three-pointers and a runner in the lane that put New Orleans ahead 103-102 with 30 seconds remaining. Davis knocked down two free throws with 21 ticks to go for a 105-102 edge. On OKC’s final possession, the 6-foot-10 Davis got his long arms on Jeremy Lamb’s three-point attempt, sealing a fifth consecutive win for New Orleans.
Austin Rivers joined Roberts in making several key plays with the outcome in doubt. Rivers scored all seven of his points in the fourth quarter.
“We just made a few stops and really ramped it up scoring-wise,” Gordon said. “Austin made a lot of big plays down the stretch. It was a good team win. We’re glad we pulled it off.”