(Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder)

Recap: Thunder vs. Pelicans


Thunder fights back, comes up short in OT nail-biter

By Nick Gallo and Paris Lawson | okcthunder.com

The Big Picture

Box Score: OKC vs. NOP

Before Friday night’s game between the Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans, OKC head coach Mark Daigneault explained that the 22 clutch-time games the team has been in have served as obvious reminders of the value of every single possession. That’s a lesson the Thunder delivers after every game, but it just so happened that a few hours after Daigneault spoke, the score was again within five points inside the final final minutes for the 23rd time this season. 

Throughout the first half, that possibility seemed unlikely, as the Thunder trailed by as many as 21, including an 18-point deficit at halftime. Out of the locker room, the Thunder played with its hair on fire, the effort and energy revving up a 31-16 third quarter margin, the seventh time this season the Thunder has outscored its opponent by 10 or more in that frame. 

(Photo credit: Jimmy Do | OKC Thunder)

The fourth quarter was a shootout, as the Thunder’s run extended to build a nine-point lead. After a burst by the Pelicans, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander hit a step-back 3 with 3:56 to go, to push OKC’s lead out to five, then exactly a minute later Lu Dort scored on an overlapping cut with Jalen Williams to make it 110-102. 

New Orleans closed regulation on a 10-2 run, forcing overtime as a pair of late Thunder drives and finishes went awry. In the extra frame the Thunder had two more chances to force overtime, but after not being able to convert down low on an inbounds play, OKC had to foul to keep the game alive. New Orleans’ Jaxson Hayes missed both free throws, but Gilgeous-Alexander’s 3-point heave at the buzzer hit off the front rim, ending this one with a 128-125 Pelicans win.  

First Quarter

Nick: The Thunder’s first eight points of the game all came in the paint, and the Thunder’s downhill attacks started right away as Shai slithered all the way to the rim for two after twisting around the screen then blowing by Jonas Valanciunas. A few possessions later, Aleksej Pokuševski caught the ball at the top of the key, pump faked Valanciunas into a poor closeout, leaving a wide open lane. Pokuševski seamlessly put the ball on the floor and attacked off the bounce for an easy lefty layup. For the night, the Thunder outscored New Orleans 66-54 in the paint. 

Paris: Aleksej Pokuševski had a tough assignment going up against the Pelicans – defending Jonas Valanciunas. However, Pokuševski played with a tone of physicality from the jump. In the first five minutes of action, the 7-footer logged a block and several physical block outs on the Pelicans’ big man. On the other end, Pokuševski played to his advantage using his speed and 3-point shooting against the slower Valanciunas. He took Valanciunas off the dribble for a layup and knocked down a trailing three in transition. He finished the game with 17 points, his 15th game this season scoring in double figures after having 22 such games last year. 

Nick: After a Thunder turnover, Gilgeous-Alexander retreated back in transition defense and made a steal that saved what would have been a sure-fire bucket. Shai quickly turned that takeaway into points for OKC as he pitched ahead a pass to Kenrich Williams for a wide-open dunk in the open floor. The Thunder finished with 20 fast-break points in the game. 

(Photo credit: Jimmy Do | OKC Thunder)

Second Quarter

Paris: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander brought the ball up the floor and got a high ball screen from Tre Mann. SGA rejected the ball screen, got the step on Herbert Jones and elevated all the way above the rim for a two-handed slam. With Mann setting the screen, it opened the lane wide open for Gilgeous-Alexander as Mann’s defender stayed put. While SGA leads the league in drives per game, the Thunder continues to use unpredictable play calls and screening actions to create openings for him at the basket. 

Third Quarter

Nick: The Thunder’s third quarter push began by turning defense into offense quickly, and Josh Giddey was a catalyst for that type of sequence. After New Orleans’ CJ McCollum missed a 3, Giddey made a strong box out and kicked the ball ahead to start the fast break. Trailing the play with speed through the middle of the floor, Giddey kept his head up and hands ready and got the ball kicked back to him by Gilgeous-Alexander for a catch-and-shoot 3 at the top of the key. Giddey finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, as Friday marked Giddey’s 82nd NBA game and the fourth time he registered a 20-10-5 game in his young career. 

Paris: Coming out of halftime, the Thunder focused their attention on their energy, particularly on the defensive end. In the opening minutes of the third quarter that’s exactly what the Thunder brought. The Thunder held the Pelicans to just 5-of-15 from the field and 1-of-7 from the 3-point line during its 15-2 run and that closed its 21-point deficit to just single digits. 

Fourth Quarter

Nick: After the Thunder’s furious third-quarter comeback, the run continued and OKC tied the game at 80 at the outset of the fourth quarter as Tre Mann buried a wide open catch-and-shoot corner 3 off a pass from Giddey. After scoring 75 points in 70 minutes the last two nights in Las Vegas with the OKC Blue, Mann jumped into the rotation and nailed three triples, including that pivotal catch-and-shoot look, which was a major focal point heading into his stint with the Blue. More than the points scored in Las Vegas, it was the confidence, rhythm and reps that Mann got with the Blue that was most valuable, and those factors showed themselves against New Orleans. 

Paris: Jose Alvarado missed the 3-point attempt on one end and the long rebound ended up in the hands of Jalen Williams who immediately set out in transition and led a 3-on-1 fast break. He dropped a no-look pass off to Josh Giddey at the rim who elevated and finished the layup. The play forced a timeout by New Orleans who had suddenly fallen behind by six points after leading by as many as 21. 


Nick: The overtime period was a shootout, as the Pelicans ripped off back-to-back 3s and eventually took a seven-point lead with 1:24 remaining in the extra frame. Gilgeous-Alexander, who has been judicious about the 3-pointers he’s taken all season long, lined up a step-back 3 from the wing, arcing it high and burying it to get the Thunder back within two possessions. The bucket gave Shai, who nightly makes his case for a spot on the All-Star team, a career-high 44 points on a career-high 17 made field goals on just 29 attempts. He hit 3-of-4 3-pointers and added 10 rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block. 


“We did a great job of putting ourselves in position there. We were down, the first half we were just really out of rhythm and not a lot of energy. We came out of halftime and it didn't turn right away but we kind of hung in there and stuck with it. We got a nice run to finish the third and did a nice job in the fourth to get control of the game. They just out-executed us late in the fourth quarter on both ends of the floor.” - Coach Daigneault 

“When you lose a game like this, where we took control of the game at some point, it's kind of tough. But you’ve just got to keep learning from every game. There's a lot to learn from this one, but like every game you can get better. So we're just gonna keep learning. - Aleksej Pokuševski

What's Next

Coming back from a three-day Christmas break, the Thunder will conclude its longest homestand in franchise history of seven games on Tuesday with a matchup against the San Antonio Spurs. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. CT. 

The Walkout: Thunder Resilient, Falls in OT

Friday's Photos
By Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder