I would be lying if I said the first few minutes didn’t have me concerned.
The Thunder were coming off of a humbling loss to the Western Conference-leading Portland Trail Blazers, and had nearly let a 17-point lead collapse in Sacramento the night before. Despite entering the contest with a 13-4 record, they were in need of a convincing victory against a 9-9 Pelicans team to prove they weren’t starting a mid-season slide.
Although the very beginning was close, tied at 7 with 9:04 to play in the 1st quarter, the Pelicans were able to generate a 13-2 run that extended their lead to 11 (20-9) with 5:56 remaining in the opening period. Luckily, the Thunder were quick to respond with a 13-2 run of their own starting at the 4:28 mark, which allowed them to completely erase the Pelicans’ lead (24-24) with 40.2 seconds remaining in the opening quarter. Although the Pelicans’ Tyreke Evans was able to end the quarter with a pair of free throws, the Thunder were able to turn an 11-point deficit into a mere one-possession game (26-24) after 1.
The 2nd quarter was a streaky one for both squads. The Thunder started the quarter on a 6-0 run that saw the them retake the lead for the first time since the Pelicans had gone up 4-3 at the 10:31 mark of the 1st quarter, and extended their lead to 4 (32-26) with 9:17 remaining in the 2nd. The Pelicans immediately responded at the 9:04 mark with a 12-3 run that had allowed them to reclaim a 3-point lead with just under 6 minutes to play in the half. After a bit of back-and-forth, the game stood tied at 52 with under a minute to play in the half. That’s when the Thunder sparked a 9-0 run that extended into the 3rd quarter, and allowed the Thunder to reclaim the lead for good. The first half ended with the Thunder up 6 (58-52).
The second half was pretty much all Thunder. The Thunder lead swelled to as high as 20 (107-87) with 2:35 to play, and ended at 14 when the final buzzer sounded, as the Thunder exited New Orleans Arena with a 109-95 victory. This victory improves the Thunder’s record to 14-4, while dropping the Pelicans’ record to 9-10.
Of course you had the gaudy stats from the usual suspects. Double-double machine, Serge Ibaka did it again last night with his 17 points and 13 rebounds. Kevin Durant’s 29 points lead all scorers to take the floor, although Russell Westbrook’s 25-point contribution was pretty impressive as well. And as the Thunder are known for having a decent 6th man to score points off of the bench, Reggie Jackson fills the role yet again, knocking down 15.
A few Pelican players had a decent night to hang their hats on. Ryan Anderson knocked down 18 points, while Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon dropped 16 apiece. Although starters Jason Smith and Al-Farouq Aminu didn’t post a lot of points (11 combined: Smith with 4, Aminu with 7), they did contribute double-digit rebounds each (Smith had 12, Aminu pulled down 10). There were a couple of bright spots on the Pelicans’ bench as well, as Tyreke Evans dropped 11 points, and Anthony Morrow contributed 10.
This was a good win to end the road trip with, but now the Thunder have a daunting task to face as they return home to go toe-to-toe with the Indiana Pacers. At 17-2, the Pacers currently sport the NBA’s best record. The action will come to you from Chesapeake Energy Arena via Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, or NBA League Pass. Tip-off is scheduled for 6pm CST.