After knocking down seven 3-pointers the first quarter, the Thunder’s offense cooled off in the second. As OKC worked to regain an offensive rhythm, New Orleans continued its steady cadence of points in the paint through all four quarters.
There were two drastically different styles of play at work on the floor between the Thunder and Pelicans. New Orleans held a slight 32-28 lead after the first quarter, but the way the two squads generated their buckets were on two different ends of the spectrum.
“Good ball movement,” said Thunder center Al Horford. “ I felt like Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander), George (Hill) – our guys were really able to get in the paint and create and we moved the ball pretty well in that first quarter.”
This would be the theme for the Thunder’s 13th New Year’s Eve matchup. The Pelicans made their presence known in the paint scoring off of midrange jumpers, drives and offensive rebound put backs. The reigning Western Conference player of the Week, Brandon Ingram led the scoring for New Orleans with 20 points.
For the Thunder, it was veteran big man Al Horford who paced the Thunder’s offense with a team-high 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting and 3-for-5 from the 3-point line.
After the promising barrage of 3-pointers from the Thunder in the first quarter, OKC struggled to regain its rhythm on the offensive end from then on. Despite moments of strong ball movement and offensive bursts of energy, the Thunder’s hot hand cooled down with only four made 3-pointers in the second half.
For the Thunder, it was a lesson in maintaining ball movement and offensive movement when going up against a team who packs the paint, but has the length to scramble and contest shooters on the perimeter.
“We have to keep the ball moving and keep our bodies moving more against a team like that where they're in a lot of rotations and shifts,” said Thunder center Mike Muscala who added 10 points on the night. “Make some more cuts on the back side, and then be ready to shoot against those close outs.”
Play of the Game
Although the Thunder’s shots weren’t falling at a high clip all game, the promising ball movement that led to 24 assists on its 30 buckets was indicative of the style of play that the Thunder works to achieve. That principle was on display in the second quarter as Thunder rookie Aleksej Pokuševski connected with forward Isaiah Roby underneath the rim for an easy, uncontested two-handed slam.
Stat of the Night54
The Pelicans won the battle in the paint outscoring the Thunder 54-30 in the lane but it wasn’t just standard post ups that led to their production in the lane. Looks in transition, second chance opportunities and drives to the rim all contributed to New Orleans’ paint production. It’s an area that Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault noted that the team will look to develop and learn from as they enter into an upcoming five-game road stretch.
“We wanted to see from a team level, getting into the mentality of five guys guarding the ball, five guys guarding the posts, five guys guarding in transition and five guys rebounding and that's the mentality that we want to have,” said Daigneault. “It's one we need to develop. A game is never all or nothing. There's possessions tonight where we did that well, obviously not enough. We've got some work to do but that's the mentality we're striving for on that into the floor.”
Quotes of the Night
“Every guy in his locker room wants to get better. It wants to play together so it's a young team and we're learning, and we're going to continue to take steps to be better.” –George Hill “It's never all or nothing and we'll learn the lessons and get back to work with another quick turnaround. We'll be ready to play on Saturday.”
The Thunder will take the lessons from this one and get back to work in a quick turnaround before its next matchup on Saturday. Following the game, Thunder players Isaiah Roby and Théo Maledon got an early start on that work coming back out on the floor to get some extra shots up before starting out the new year on the road.
OKC will open up a five-game road trip in Orlando on Saturday to face the Magic for the second time in five days.