Game Recap: Thunder 107, Pelicans 104
On the road against a familiar foe, the Thunder did something extremely difficult – beat a team for the third time in just 30 days. Thanks to stout second half defense and some timely shot-making, the Thunder pulled out a hard-earned road victory.
For most of the season, the Thunder has played its big men like Steven Adams up at the top of the key as a playmaker and passer as guards cycle past him for dribble hand-offs and backdoor cuts. Tonight it was some old school Adams, in post ups and as a screener in high pick-and-roll action, that sliced through the New Orleans Pelicans’ defense.
At the very outset, the Thunder went straight to Adams just as it had on Friday night back in Oklahoma City. Despite a lineup change for New Orleans to try to deal with Adams’ beef inside with Jahlil Okafor instead of the lithe rookie Jaxson Hayes, the Thunder made the Pelicans pay. Adams had three buckets in the opening salvo as the Thunder shot 6-for-6 to start the game to rack up a 16-6 edge right off the bat.
NBA games are full of runs however, and with a team as potent offensively and in transition as the Pelicans, it was no surprise that New Orleans made a quick response on their home court. The long, rangy Brandon Ingram got going a bit and that fueled a 15-5 burst, capped by a long side-step three-pointer by Jrue Holiday.
The Thunder didn’t help itself in the second quarter, with turnovers racking up to 8 total for the half, while Pelicans forward Nicolo Melli, playing center in a small-ball lineup, knocked down a pair of three-pointers. The 9-1 run cut the Thunder’s lead and eventually OKC went to the locker room at halftime leading by just one.
The Pelicans’ good fortune continued into the second half, with a 9-2 spurt that was compounded by four straight minutes without any points for the Thunder. After the first quarter, the Pelicans started double-teaming Adams on the block, throwing out a puzzle the Thunder had to solve. The Thunder did so by running Adams up into high pick-and-rolls with Chris Paul and other guards.
“If they double-team me, we’ll just go to something else,” Adams said. “As long as you do it with flow and pace, usually you’re in good shape.”
Suddenly a spasm of offense erupted from Head Coach Billy Donovan’s group, while the defense clamped down with crisp help-side rotations, good contests on jump shots and strong rebounds to finish possessions.
What resulted was an 11-3 run by the Thunder to end the third quarter, initiated by back-to-back three-pointers by Danilo Gallinari and Dennis Schröder. Then, after Schröder knocked down a technical foul free throw, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scooped in a tricky layup and hit two free throws after another hard drive to give OKC a five-point lead heading into the final frame. After some third quarter woes over the past few weeks, the Thunder went 5-of-12 on three-pointers in the period and held the Pelicans to just one assist in the entire quarter.
“(Terrance Ferguson) did an amazing job on everyone he guarded, especially Ingram” said Schröder. “He stayed down on pump fakes, riding over screens.”
Despite Ferguson’s hounding defense, the Pelicans weren’t ready to roll over so easily as New Orleans re-took the lead mid-way through the final frame on three-pointers by Josh Hart and then what might have been a dagger by Lonzo Ball in the corner. That bucket, off a pass from Ingram in the post, made it 94-89 Pelicans with 5:15 to go. Still plenty of minutes on the clock for the Thunder to make some crunch-time magic.
Immediately after Ball’s triple, Chris Paul snaked around a screen for a mid-range jumper to quiet the crowd at the Smoothie King Center. The Thunder then got a pair of stops before Paul attacked again off a screen and found Danilo Gallinari for his fourth three of the game, capping a 23-point effort from the Italian forward to tie the game at 94.
New Orleans called timeout to try and quell the run, but the Thunder again got stops, forcing a missed step-back jumper by Holiday before Adams swatted a Hayes shot. In between those defensive stands, Paul again got to his spot in the middle of the floor and buried a jumper. When the Pelicans double-teamed Paul on the next possession, Adams flashed to the middle of the floor and was fouled. He stepped to the line and knocked down the first two of what would be five made late game free throws for the Kiwi center.
“My eyes were closed every time mate,” Adams joked. “Just sticking with the routine.”
“I expected him to make them,” said Paul. “He’s a vet in this league. I’m just glad he was aggressive. He’s been big for us the past few games.”
"Steven was a force... I thought Steven and Chris in the pick-and-roll in the middle of the floor was really good closing the game. There were a lot of good things there between those two guys and the pairing of their pick-and-roll." -Coach Donovan pic.twitter.com/Rmf0sGd6Di— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) December 2, 2019
Play of the Game
Adams’ free throws took the Thunder’s run to 9-0, but after Ingram missed a fadeaway, the Thunder had the ball with another opportunity to extend the lead. After a bit of a scramble, the ball ended up in Paul’s hands on the right wing in a mismatch with the 6-foot-11 Hayes. As he’s done hundreds of times before, Paul side-stepped right, pulled the ball behind his shoulder and launched a three-pointer, even as Hayes towered over him and tried to block it. The ball still splashed through the net and gave the Thunder a 101-94 lead, which held up over the closing 2:15 that remained.
“It was weird, eh. I didn’t actually see Chris. He just disappeared because of my angle,” Adams recalled.
“I done shot that shot seven game straights and missed it and it finally went in,” Paul quipped. “Probably luck.”
Stat of the Night41.5
The shooting percentage that the Thunder forced New Orleans into in the second half on Sunday afternoon. Donovan’s club was particularly effective in the paint, where the for the game the Pelicans shot just 46 percent, well-below league average in the lane.
Adams, along with Nerlens Noel and the Thunder’s overall defensive scheme, did a nice job of keeping Pelicans’ drivers out of the paint and away from the rim for large stretches of the game.
Quotes of the Night
“It was just winning time. (Steven) made big plays, big free throws and we got timely stops. That was huge for us.”
“We’re just communicating. I think that’s the biggest key for our group, just communicating offensively and defensively and we’ll be fine.” –Dennis Schröder
The Thunder heads back to Oklahoma City, putting an end to a stretch of nine games that included six on the road and all three tilts at Chesapeake Energy Arena as single game home stands. After a day off on Monday and practice on Tuesday, the Thunder will host the Indiana Pacers in OKC on Wednesday night.