The Oklahoma City Thunder (17-9) fell just short of accomplishing yet another dramatic fourth quarter comeback on Wednesday night in New Orleans, falling 118-114 to the Pelicans (15-15) at the Smoothie King Center. The Thunder simply had no answer for Pelicans’ power forward Anthony Davis, as The Brow recorded a season-high 44 points and 18 rebounds in the nationally-televised contest. Paul George led the way for Oklahoma City, posting 25 points (9-of-17 FG, 3-of-7 3P, 4-of-4 FT), 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and a block.
The Thunder offense was surprisingly efficient to start, despite Russell Westbrook’s four turnovers in the opening frame. The Thunder shot 62.5 percent in the quarter and led 28-25 after one. Davis briefly exited with a left foot contusion but was able to return early in the second quarter.
New Orleans was able to find its groove offensively in the second, as Davis returned to the floor and finished the first half with 18 points and 8 rebounds. OKC received a boost off the bench thanks to Dennis Schroder, as the best backup point guard in the Association led the Thunder with 15 points — including a fortunate “alley-three”, as a failed alley-oop pass intended for Hamidou Diallo hit nothing but net. Steven Adams recorded a near perfect half from the field, scoring 12 points and feasting on Julius Randle from the left block. There were 13 lead changes and nine ties in the first two quarters, and the Pelicans took a 57-56 lead into the break.
Oklahoma City was forced to play small for a majority of the third quarter after Jerami Grant picked up his fourth and fifth fouls in the first two minutes of the half. Instead of immediately inserting Patrick Patterson, Billy Donovan elected to move George over to the four and plugged in Schroder. Davis wreaked havoc on the small-ball lineup, scoring 18 points in the third quarter alone. The Pelicans’ lead grew to 89-84 heading into the final 12 minutes.
After consecutive three-pointers by Terrance Ferguson and Westbrook, the Thunder trimmed the deficit to 95-98 early in the fourth. Westbrook proceeded to turn the ball over on consecutive possessions, allowing the Pelicans to push the lead back to eight. George later hit a three to cut the Thunder deficit to 105-110 with four minutes to go. However, a backbreaking sequence happened with two minutes remaining and the Thunder trailing by five, as Westbrook allowed an easy defensive rebound slip through his hands, leading to an easy Davis put-back, giving the Pelicans a seven-point lead. A few possessions later, Davis converted a second chance put-back, reestablishing that seven-point lead with 1:33 remaining. With time not on their side, the Thunder were in need of one final rally.
A Westbrook steal led to an easy dunk for the Brodie, followed by another steal by Adams leading to a transition and-one for George. Suddenly, the Thunder trailed 114-116 with 48 seconds remaining.
A Thunder stop on Davis gave OKC the ball back with a chance to tie with 25 seconds remaining. A helter-skelter possession for the Thunder resulted in a missed Westbrook three-point attempt. The Thunder were given a stroke of good luck after Randle blanked two free-throws, giving OKC the ball back with 10 seconds remaining and facing a two-point deficit.
Westbrook received the inbounds pass and George immediately provided the pick. Westbrook drew the switch on Davis and attacked the paint, kicking a late pass out to the perimeter for the recently inserted Alex Abrines. Abrines let a wide open three pointer fly, but was unable to hit. The Pelicans held on for the 118-114 victory after making two free throws with less than a second remaining.
Westbrook’s Struggles Continue: Westbrook’s box score wasn’t half bad, putting up 20 points (8-of-16 FG), 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 steals, and 2 blocks. “Bad Russ” showed up, once again, beyond the three-point and free-throw lines. Westbrook was 2-of-7 from three and 2-of-5 from the charity stripe. Considering Westbrook came into tonight shooting 21.8 percent from three, it’s only natural to ask yourself why he continues to put up irresponsible threes (And no, “Why Not” is no longer an applicable answer here).
Brow The Bully: Davis dominated the Thunder on both ends of the floor tonight, producing 44 points (16-of-32 FG, 1-of-3 3P, 11-of-11 FT). Davis went to work on the depleted Thunder in the third, scoring 18 points after Grant picked up his fifth foul with 10 minutes remaining in the quarter. He continues to perform at an All-NBA level.
Free Woe Shooting: Just another day at the office for the Thunder, as the team’s struggles from the free-throw line continue to cripple them at the most inopportune moments. The Thunder shot 17-of-27 (63 percent) from the stripe, in comparison to the Pelicans going 24-of-30 (80 percent). It’s almost like those missed freebies would’ve come in handy in a one-possession game in the final seconds, eh?
Rebounding: The Thunder were dominated on both ends of the glass tonight, getting outrebounded by the Pelicans 56-39, including a 17-9 discrepancy on the offensive glass. The Thunder allowed far too many second-chance points in the closing minutes, particularly to Davis, as OKC came roaring back. In total, the Pelicans scored 74 points in the paint, compared to 48 for the Thunder.
Not So Thunderous Third: The Thunder came into tonight as the best third quarter team in the NBA, but certainly didn’t play like it tonight. With Grant picking up his fifth foul in the first two minutes, the Thunder were sent into a quarter-long tailspin. For a team that hangs their hat on the defensive end, Grant is a necessary piece of the puzzle.