By Nick Gallo and Paris Lawson | okcthunder.com
Highlights: OKC 110, NOP 96
The Big Picture
Box Score: OKC 110, NOP 96
In the previous three matchups with New Orleans, the Thunder was put on its heels from the very start. All three games, all Pelicans wins, came by four points or fewer, so those slow starts for OKC were game-changing. On Saturday night, the Thunder reversed that trend by hitting first against the Pelicans, taking a lead at the 9:18 mark in the first quarter and holding onto it for the entire rest of the game for a 110-96 victory.
In the first half the Thunder allowed just four second chance points, 0 fast break points and 0 points off turnovers to the Pelicans, who are a team that thrives on those miscellaneous points throughout the year. By running good offense and getting predictable shots, OKC was able to make New Orleans take the ball out of the net or at the very least, force the Pelicans to come back down and try to score against a set defense every time.
In the fourth quarter the Pelicans put some game pressure on the Thunder, which was a welcome challenge for an OKC team that is used to charging back to make comebacks and not the alternative. While New Orleans cut the Thunder’s 21-point lead down to nine with 4:53 to go, Lu Dort set up Isaiah Joe for a crucial three at the top of the key to push the OKC lead back out to double figures. While the Thunder was solid offensively and kept the scoreboard moving, it was the defense on Saturday that stymied the Pelicans and got this back-to-back started on the right foot.
Nick: While the Thunder is managing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s abdominal strain by watching his minutes and being judicious about back to backs, OKC’s All-Star was shot out of a cannon defensively to start this game. It was game number 300 of Shai’s career, and he proved that over the course of that time he’s improved on both ends of the floor. Not only did Shai go 5-for-6 and rack up 14 of his 35 total points in the first quarter but he was seemingly everywhere inside the Thunder’s defensive scheme. He made three steals by being alert and then blocked a shot on CJ McCollum in the first five and a half minutes of the game, while also tying up Jonas Valanciunas for a jump ball by crashing over from the weak side in help.
Paris: The Thunder and the Pelicans both rank in the top 10 in the league in points in the paint per game. OKC dominated that category in the first quarter with a 14 to six advantage scoring in the lane. A major contributor to OKC’s paint scoring came from its fast break points where OKC racked up eight in the first frame. The Thunder’s defense played a critical factor in the team’s ability to rack up quality paint looks throughout the first frame with four Pelicans turnovers that led to six extra points on the other end of the floor for OKC.
Paris: Jalen “J-Dub” Williams used his 7-foot-2 wingspan to swarm the Pelicans’ point guard CJ McCollum on the perimeter. The length caused just enough disruption to force McCollum into a turnover it was Williams’ first steal of the night, but the 6th for OKC overall. J-Dub sent the ball ahead to his teammate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who finished the bucket in transition. OKC’s defense forced a total of 12 turnovers by the Pelicans and racked up 17 points on the other end of the floor by halftime. Meanwhile, OKC only committed seven miscues of their own, but didn’t allow them to translate into a single point of offense for the Pelicans.
Nick: The Thunder has used off-ball cuts about as well as anyone all season and in the second quarter it scored on them on back to back possessions. Both plays involved Jalen Williams, as he sliced in from the left angle to receive a pass from Isaiah Joe, who was tip-toeing along the baseline with the ball on a Nash dribble. Williams finished the layup plus the foul, completing the and-one. On the Thunder’s next possession it was Williams on the front end of the play, hitting Josh Giddey in stride as the Australian guard dove to the cup. In the first half the Thunder shot 51.4 percent from the field, including 11 makes inside the paint.
Nick: Defensively the Thunder was disciplined in its help all night, constantly aware of its need to dig in from the weak side to break up passes and disrupt anything easy around the rim. On one possession in the third quarter Lu Dort put himself in position to smack the ball out of CJ McCollum’s hands and it led to a run out. Dort was a pest for McCollum all night, holding him to just 8-for-20 shooting. On this particular play, Dort maintained his energy on offense too because in the open court he stuck with the play and saved a loose ball from falling into New Orleans’ hands by smartly slapping the ball away to Gilgeous-Alexander, who swiftly dunked it. For the game, the Thunder racked up 11 steals and 23 points off of 22 Pelicans turnovers.
Paris: Jalen Williams caught the ball on the left corner and attacked the closeout of Jonas Valanciunas. The rookie hit the gas driving the middle of the floor, undeterred by the contact from the Pelicans’ center and finished the shot. On the next possession, Williams attacked the right side of the floor and used a quick behind the back dribble to get a step on his defender and finish a scoop layup at the rim. In his first game back in the lineup after missing time with a right wrist sprain, Williams continues to showcase his versatility on the offensive end and the various ways he can put the ball through the hoop and also his ability to be a disrupter defensively with a matchup like CJ McCollum. For the night, J-Dub finished with 17 points, three steals on 7-of-10 from the field.
Paris: The Pelicans made a run in the fourth frame to close the scoring gap to just nine points with five minutes remaining in the game. Unlike the last two meetings with this New Orleans team where the Thunder had to work and rally its way back from down 20 or more points, OKC had to work to protect its lead down the stretch. It took a mixture of free throws from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort and a series of critical late game stops to quell any promising momentum by the Pelicans to mount a comeback.
Nick: In the first half, Josh Giddey had a few more turnovers than he typically does due to New Orleans’ opportunistic defense but in the fourth quarter, he found his own pace to be a factor on the offensive side. He scored seven-straight points over the course of fiveThunder possessions and it started on a broken play. After inbounding the ball to Dort, Giddey got himself inbounds quickly and in position to catch as Dort picked up a loose ball and was in search of a teammate. Giddey caught and buried a three from the left wing. During his scoring sequence, Giddey attacked with a left to right crossover dribble and finished on the right side of the rim. He did it from the other side a couple plays later, using a hesitation dribble to freeze his defender before bursting to the left side of the rim for a scooping layup. Giddey went 4-for-5 in the fourth quarter, racking up 9 of his 19 total points in the frame.
“It's hard to hold the lead for the whole game on the road the way we did tonight and I felt the guys just did a great job of stacking possessions especially in the second half. A team like that is going to make some noise and they did at multiple different times. But we held them off with sound execution on both ends of the floor which is the recipe for doing that.” –Coach Daigneault
“This is our fourth time playing them and the three other times, we got off to a slow start and then we played him really well towards the end of the game. So that was our big focus and we did a really good job of that. Just wanted to be physical without fouling. I think this is one of our best games that we've had doing that and just kind of set the tone early and that carried over the rest of the game.” –Jalen Williams
The Thunder immediately heads to San Antonio for the second night of a back-to-back on Sunday. to close out a stretch of 19-straight games against Western Conference opponents. With a day off on Monday, the team returns to OKC to take on the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday.
By Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder