Thunder Out of Gas in Final Game of 5-in-7 Stretch – OKC 100, NOP 114

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

Even if some of the players wouldn’t admit it, the buildup to tonight’s Thunder game had a major effect on the outcome.

Concluding a stretch of 5 games in 7 nights, with a time zone change between each game, the Thunder struggled in the second half against a steady New Orleans Pelicans squad, ultimately falling 114-100. Still, the Thunder knows that it could have played at a higher level, and will need to return to its high standard of play moving forward.

“We have to be better than that. There’s no excuse. Every team has a schedule like ours,” forward Paul George said sternly.

“You can’t blame that,” center Steven Adams added. “We’ve been through worse.

It wasn’t a wire-to-wire loss, however. In fact early on, it looked like the Thunder might defy the scheduling odds and generate a dominant performance. I’m rattling off a 17-2 run midway through the fourth quarter, the Thunder erased an early six-point deficit took an 11-point lead that rushed up to 16 points early in the second quarter. The recipe to Thunder success early on was the energy, and an ability to get to the rim.

“Most of that just comes down to your execution. If you come off a down screen, you have one step on the guy,” Adams explained. “It’s utilizing that one step and not letting them get back in front.”

The Thunder outrebounded New Orleans by nine in the first quarter, scored 11 points off Pelicans turnovers and 14 fast break points in the opening quarter, racking up a total of eight dunks and 38 points in the paint in the first half alone. In fact the Thunder’s burst was initiated by fast break dunks by Russell Westbrook and Adams on back-to-back possessions, giving the faithful at Chesapeake Energy Arena plenty to cheer about early on.

“In the first half I thought our guys came out and played pretty well,” Donovan stated. “We ran out of gas.”

Those numbers were upended in the second half, when Donovan’s club managed just 10 points in the paint and one dunk. Legs started to tire, shots stopped falling, or even making it past the front of the rim. As the second half wore on, the Thunder’s shooting percentage continued to dip. Even the good looks that the team did get within the flow of the offense didn’t drop, and that led to more momentum-fueled possessions for New Orleans on the other end. More difficult to overcome were the turnovers, as the Thunder gave away 16 total, including 5 in the fourth quarter.

“Just taking care of the ball and getting back in transition,” Westbrook said of the issues. “They got a lot of easy baskets at the paint and a lot of open shots, stuff that’s preventable.”

On defense, the Thunder was put into a bind all night long in trying to deal with All-Star forward Anthony Davis. When Oklahoma City was unable to stop the ball on initial dribble penetration in screen-and-rolls, Davis was able to roll hard for lob dunks over the top of the defense. If Adams retreated back in time to take away a pass over the top, Pelicans guards were able to get to the heart of the defense and kick out to the three-point line.

“They started getting real confident, running their stuff with a lot more pace. That made it difficult to guard,” Adams explained. “It was moreso their sets and how they moved stuff around them. They were just getting downhill and we’re in scramble mode.”

Davis made the Thunder pay for 43 points, mostly around the rim, but also with a trio of three-pointers, including two backbreakers late in the fourth quarter. The rest of the Pelicans cashed in from the perimeter, hitting 10-of-18 of their threes, led by E’Twaun Moore, who went 4-for-4 from behind the arc on his way to 26 points.

For the Thunder, six players scored in double figures, led by Steven Adams’ 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting to go with 12 rebounds. Russell Westbrook logged his 16th triple-double of the season with 16 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists, while Alex Abrines and Jerami Grant combined for 26 points off the bench.

Highlights: Thunder vs. Pelicans

By the Numbers

12 – Rebounds for Jerami Grant, a career-high, to go with 12 points on 6-for-7 shooting

14 – Assists for Russell Westbrook as a part of his 16th triple-double of the season

51.1-38.1 – The difference in shooting percentages tonight in New Orleans’ favor

The Last Word

“Offensively we got good looks. We got great shots. We just couldn’t make shots. That was the game. We got the looks we wanted. We just couldn’t knock them down tonight. Defensively is where we have to get a little stronger. We were struggling on that end.” – forward Paul George


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