By Nick Gallo and Paris Lawson | okcthunder.com
The Big Picture
The Thunder was chasing the game all night. Restlessly attacking and swarming, intelligently leveraging its scheme and skills, OKC fought and scratched and clawed. Even after all that chasing though, it could never quite grab the game.
Falling behind 10-1 in the opening minutes to a New Orleans Pelicans team paced by Brandon Ingram, who scored his team’s first 12 points, the Thunder was constantly running uphill the rest of the night inside Paycom Center. The first half was more of an up-and-down affair, but in the third quarter the Thunder slowed things down to a crawl, getting its defense fired up and out-scoring the Pelicans 22-16 in the frame.
OKC even cut the Pelicans’ 20-point first half lead down to just one point with 2:46 remaining in the third quarter, with every Thunder fan in the building certain that at some point in the final 15 minutes the Thunder would get over the hump. New Orleans seemed to have an answer to every OKC run, however, parrying away threats with trips to the free throw line, tough jumpers by Brandon Ingram or points off turnovers.
In the closing minutes the Thunder played the foul game and gave itself a chance with a look at the buzzer that would have tied the game. OKC’s first inbounds pass got deflected out of bounds, then Isaiah Joe curled around to catch and hoisted a 3 but it bounced high off the back of the rim and missed, leaving the Thunder with a 103-100 loss.
Box Score: OKC vs. NOP
Nick: Brandon Ingram got off to a hot start for New Orleans, but on a possession midway through the first quarter, the Thunder started to make him feel pressure. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stood Ingram up on an attempted drive through the left elbow, and while the ball stalled out, Jalen Williams had time to crash over from his help position at the top of the key to make a steal. Williams is the leader in steals among all rookies this season, with 65. This matchup pitted two of the top steals teams in the league against one another, and both teams combined for 36 turnovers forced in the game.
Paris: In the Thunder’s last game against Portland, Isaiah Joe put up 12 points off the bench with a perfect 4-for-4 shooting performance from the 3-point line. Joe – who leads the NBA in 3-point percentage with his 45.8% shooting clip for the season – continued that trend in the first quarter against New Orleans as he cashed in two more triples which brought him to six consecutive makes dating back to Friday in Portland. Heading into the second quarter, Joe racked up eight points in just five minutes played.
Nick: In a game lacking rhythm, the Thunder had to manufacture some juice to get it’s offensive engine started and that always starts on the defensive end in OKC. Rookie Jalen Williams was in his help side spot as the low man in the Thunder’s defensive shell when Pelicans forward Trey Murphy wheeled to the rim with designs on hammering home a monster dunk. JDub met him on the left side of the cup and swatted away the dunk try. That stop helped put an end to a five-minute stretch without any points for the Thunder, as the fire ignited from that possession translated on offense as well. As the Thunder continued its late second quarter push, Jalen was in the middle of another tenacious play, as he hounded Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado out on the perimeter and ended up ripping the ball from him. Williams also scored 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting in the game to go with seven rebounds.
Paris: The Thunder needed a spark offensively when Aaron Wiggins attacked the paint hard. Without looking, Wiggins dished off a no-look pass under the rim to rookie J-Dub for a two-handed dunk. On the very next possession Williams sank a 3-pointer off the bounce. The next offensive possession J-Dub had the ball out in transition and rather than taking it himself, he dropped it off to Kenrich Williams for a dunk. The rookie Rising Star was responsible for seven consecutive Thunder points that forced New Orleans to call a timeout and gave the Thunder some much needed momentum after falling behind by 19 points in the second frame.
Nick: Josh Giddey had a massive bounce back in the third quarter after some tough plays that didn’t break his way in the first half, and he got the job done on both ends of the floor. He got himself going with a pair of excellent passes, invigorating his game with his calling card. First he found a cutting Kenrich Williams down low at the dunker spot, then he hit Jalen Williams for a massive one-handed slam. Then after turning the ball over, Giddey hunted Brandon Ingram in transition and hustled back to make a steal in the back court. The ball started to roll out of bounds, but Giddey flipped it back inbounds with a save and it led to a Shai to JDub to Shai give and go fast break dunk that brought the house down. Giddey finished the game with 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Paris: Josh Giddey stole the ball from Brandon Ingram in transition and threw himself into the sidelines to save it from going out of bounds and threw it into the hands of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. SGA advanced the ball ahead to Jalen Williams who took a quick dribble and threw a no-look behind the back pass back to Gilgeous-Alexander who slammed home a two-handed flush. The play forced New Orleans to call a timeout as the Thunder had cut the Pelicans’ lead down to just one point with 2:45 left in the third frame.
Nick: In order to come back all the way from down 20 points and threaten in crunch time, it takes a massive amount of relentlessness, particularly when shots aren’t falling. An early fourth-quarter possession personified that Thunder spirit, as the team kept possession alive over and over until it resulted in a 3 on the right wing by Isaiah Joe. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who made his return to the lineup after missing the last 28 games with a severe ankle sprain, got the action going by putting up a 3 that missed, but the Thunder kept the ball alive on the offensive glass, tracked down a loose ball and eventually Giddey found Joe for one of the sharpshooter’s four-made 3s in the game.
Paris: Jonas Valeanciunas fought for positioning on the block with Jeremiah Robinson-Earl scrapping to discourage an easy post entry pass. When the ball went inside to Valanciunas, it was Robinson-Earl and Kenrich Williams swarming the big man who ultimately coughed up the ball into the hands of JRE. The play sent the Thunder off in transition where Josh Giddey finished a layup on the other end of the floor. With New Orleans’ lead now cut down to five points with 7:24 left in the game, Pelicans’ head coach Willie Green called a timeout in the hopes of thwarting any more Thunder momentum.
Highlights: OKC vs. NOP
“Credit them. They were more ready to play. They threw the first punch. They were more physical, more alert in the first quarter and it took us a long time. We went down 20 and I think it took us a long time to get it going. From about six, seven minutes in the second quarter on for the rest of the game I thought we were pretty tight and really got ourselves back in the game with effort and threw a good counter punch, but obviously dug ourselves a tough hole there.” —Coach Daigneault
“Usually down 20 a lot of teams give up and that's when you dig yourself a bigger hole. Unfortunately, we’ve been there a lot this year but we've also learned how to play through that. That's something we're getting better at. Obviously, you don't want to continue to be down 20 but we just never stopped playing so that's good on our end. It's good once you come back from around 20 and you get it down to 3 and you still have a lot of time left. That energizes us even more.” —Jalen Williams
OKC’s two-game homestand before the All-Star Break comes to a close against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night. After that, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams will head to Salt Lake City for 2023 All-Star Weekend.
By Jimmy Do | OKC Thunder