The air was sucked from the arena. The season hung in the balance and everyone inside Chesapeake Energy Arena could feel it. Russell Westbrook was on the floor reaching down toward his left leg, releasing a scream followed by a floor slap. While Westbrook is great at feigning pain to a referee for emphasis, this was clearly different. As he hobbled his way off the floor and toward the locker room, Dennis Schroder checked into the game for the Thunder.
A seven-point lead with 4:25 left in the third quarter was simultaneously the most and least important thing at that moment. When Andre Roberson went down against last season against Detroit, the entire team felt the loss. Their listless play after the injury made it clear they wanted to be doing anything but finishing the game. Last night against the Pelicans felt the same. When the game restarted, the next 1:55 looked like this:
- Steven Adams blocked at the rim
- Paul George missed three
- Anthony Davis soaring for an alley-oop
- Jerami Grant missed three
- Jrue Holiday made three
- Schroder missed layup
- Terrance Ferguson foul
Following the foul, both teams subbed and the score sat at 84-82. The Thunder still held the lead, but it was tenuous at best. Following a missed jump shot from Anthony Davis, Schroder brought the ball down and the Thunder ran a wonderful play that, in my opinion, saved the game for them:
Adams immediately establishes a strong post position. As Schroder approaches the left wing, Abrines makes a swift cut to the top of the key, picking up a quick screen from Patrick Patterson. There isn’t a lot of contact, but Patterson does a good job of forcing the defender out higher — putting Abrines in perfect position for his “pop” to the three-point line. Julius Randle has no interest in hedging out, as he is actually below the free throw line when Abrines catches the pass and turns to drive down the lane. Abrines drops a slick pass back to a wide-open Patterson, who knocks down the three, stops the bleeding, and pushes the Thunder lead back to five.
The Pelicans kept it close the rest of the way, but this shot brought the Thunder back from the malaise and carried them to their fifth straight win — the 32nd instance in the Thunder’s history to have a winning streak of at least five. The streak will be tested with three games in the next five days, but with or without Westbrook, the Thunder have the confidence — thanks in part to this beautiful play in the wake of losing the team’s MVP.