Pelicans vs. Thunder: Pregame Primer
Pelicans (20-32, 6-20 road) vs. Thunder (39-14, 24-5 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 7:00 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 110.1 (2nd), Pelicans – 103.4 (10th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 101.8 (12th), Pelicans – 106.4 (26th)
I go into every Pregame Primer wanting to either encapsulate where the Thunder are at that point in the season or look back at key moments from the previous game. But I got nothing for this game. The tragic death of Ingrid Williams, spouse to Oklahoma City associate head coach Monty Williams, puts into perspective how fragile life is and how little this game means in the grand scheme of things.
I never knew Mrs. Williams. I never met her. Hell, I didn’t even know what her name was until the tragic news broke. But I have spoken with Monty Williams, even if for a brief while. I have seen him interact with my kids at the season ticket holder party this past month. And I have heard the multitude of stories of how he has helped others deal with their own tragedies. This is what I wrote about Williams when the Thunder hired him:
While never heralded as a masterful tactician, Williams’ strengths as a coach lie more in building a special rapport with his players. For an example, read the Chris Ballard piece for Sports Illustrated on how Williams helped Pelicans’ forward Ryan Anderson deal with the passing of his girlfriend. Williams is the type of coach that players run through walls for. He’s the type of coach the can conform a malcontent, and turn him into an effective contributor.
That is theman
the Thunder hired. I underlined the word ‘man,’ because when an organization brings up team culture and organizational values, they are looking at the virtues of their employees, in addition to their track records. If the saying, “Behind every great man, there’s an even greater woman,” holds true, then Ingrid Williams must have been a class act.
Adding salt to the wound is the fact that Ingrid Williams leaves behind 5 children. As a husband and parent myself, I can’t imagine the challenge of having to raise five kids on your own, when just two days earlier it was a shared partnership with the only person you’ve ever shared that partnership with. I don’t know the ages of the children, but I can surmise, with both Monty and Ingrid being just 44 years of age, that most of their children aren’t grown.
Being the spouse of an NBA player/coach must be a lot like being the spouse of a military member. I say that because of my experience as a military child growing up. The commitment of being in the military involves the possibility of being away from family for extended periods of time, either for training purposes or mission-related deployments. While a 7-game road trip will never compare to a 12-18 month deployment, the job of the spouse remains the same in both scenarios: take care of the home front. Now, Williams has to face this challenge on his own.
Williams has counseled many on their own personal problems and losses. As a man of faith, he has always turned towards a higher power to help those around him. My hope is that in teaching and counseling others, Williams has equipped himself with the necessary tools to face this type of situation in his own life. Hopefully, the good Lord will put people in Williams’ path that will help him through this as much as he has helped others.
Oklahoma City knows tragedy better than most. We know there is no step by step process to get over the grief. You just put your arm around your fellow man and help them until they are ready. And that’s what the Thunder organization and Oklahoma City will do with Williams. Take whatever time you need, Monty. Grieve, mourn, remember, and celebrate the life of your beautiful wife. Help your kids do the same. And when you are ready, we’ll all be here. From here on out, we dedicate this season to the memory of Ingrid Williams.
This is the second of three meetings between the Thunder and Pelicans. The Thunder won the first meeting, 110-103, in a game where Russell Westbrook destroyed the Pelicans to the tune of 43 points, 8 assists, and 9 rebounds. In that game, both Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis sat out with injuries.
The Pelicans come into this season with a 20-32 record. Lately, they have been the model of consistent inconsistency. Over their last 20 games, the results have been all across the board: W1, L4, W2, L1, W3, L1, W2, L4, and W2. After making the playoffs for the first time in three season last year, the Pelicans set their sights on improving their standing within the Western Conference. They had just re-signed Anthony Davis to a 5-year max contract and were looking to build off the momentum from last season. Unfortunately, injuries and the transition to a new system under a new coach have thwarted those plans for now. A horrible start to the season (1-11) has made the uphill climb that much harder.
Much like the Thunder last year, the injury bug has yet to subside for the Pelicans. At first it was Omer Asik, Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, and Kendrick Perkins that suffered injuries at the beginning of the season. Lately, it has been Evans (again with the knee) and Eric Gordon (finger) who are out for the Pelicans. In addition, Holiday has had to be on a minutes restriction because of his previous leg injuries and will likely have to be on some sort of a minutes restriction for the rest of his career (related note: He’s only 25). Fortunately, he has played well as of late and is averaging nearly 30 minutes per game in his last 10 games.
It was almost a forgone conclusion at the beginning of the season that Anthony Davis would be in the forefront of the MVP discussion. Unfortunately, that has not happened. His numbers look nearly identical to last season’s, but the team’s record has really hindered any momentum he brought in from the offseason. Up front, Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca are average on defense and rebounding and below average on the offensive end. Ryan Anderson has been great off the bench for the Pelicans, averaging 16.9 points and 5.9 rebounds, while shooting 38.6% from 3-point territory. Norris Cole has been a necessary and stead hand as a back-up point guard. Alonzo Gee gives the Pelicans a tough wing defender.
3 Big Things1.Attack the Paint
Other than Davis, no other Pelican on the roster averages more than 0.5 blocks per game. With the Thunder’s tendency to play Ibaka away from the basket as a floor spacer, the Thunder’s wing players may have free reign into the paint.2. Bench
Due to the injuries, New Orleans’ depth has been thrown out of wack. In addition, shooting guard Bryce Dejean-Jones, who has been the Pelicans’ starting shooting guard for the past 8 games, is embroiled in a rare in-season contract dispute that will keep him out of Thursday’s game. Dejean-Jones was on his second 10-day contract which expired after New Orleans’ last game. Before making a decision to sign Dejean-Jones for the rest of the season, New Orleans would instead like to take the All-Star break to make that decision. Ryan Anderson will always make the Pelicans bench a threat, but outside of him, they are really struggling. If the Thunder stay disciplined, they may be able to take advantage of their bench depth.3. Heavy Hearts
The Thunder and Pelicans will both come into this game with heavy hearts. If you’ve seen the reactions of Durant and Morrow from shoot around today, you know the regard with which many players hold Monty Williams. Honestly, this is probably the perfect opponent for the Thunder to play after such a tragedy. There will be a shell of support from the Pelicans players that will help him in the immediate short-term. And the Thunder will be there in the short and long term.
What can we as fans do? Go home and tell your loved ones and close friends you love them. Bury the hatchet against any loved one you may have a beef with, because you never know when it may be the last time you speak with them.