The best present the Oklahoma City Thunder could’ve given fans on Easter Sunday today was a crucial 109-104 win over the New Orleans Pelicans to avoid the season sweep and move back up to the fifth spot in the Western Conference with a 45-33 record.
I’d also like to think the last several brutal Thunder games were all part of an elaborate April Fool’s prank that was just revealed to us today.
Oklahoma City showed up in an aggressive way and played with an intensity that they haven’t brought in a while.
The main fuel source, especially in the first half, was Paul George. He had 19 of his 27 points by the 8:48 mark in the second quarter and shot 50 percent by halftime. George came out swinging on both ends of the court and racked up eight rebounds and three steals. During the few slow points in the game, he was always there to get the momentum to quickly shift back to the good guys.
“We knew it was going to be tough,” George said after the game. “I just tried to get into a rhythm early and sustain it.”
The Thunder shot 53 percent and outscored the Pelicans 33-22 in an electric second quarter dominated primarily by George to take the 53-50 lead at the half.
Russell Westbrook was instrumental in keeping the ball moving on offense as he secured his 103rd career triple-double and fifth straight against New Orleans. The fast paced nature of the game led him to 26 points, 15 rebounds, and 13 assists. If you like flashy Westbrook highlights of dunks, dimes, and drives, this was definitely the game for you.
The matchup between big men Steven Adams and Anthony Davis didn’t end up taking center stage even though Davis has gotten some MVP buzz over the past couple months. Davis ended with a significant 25 points and 11 rebounds, but he didn’t command control and just take over like he has been.
A tie game at 63-63 with around five minutes left in the third was the last real possible turning point for New Orleans, but they ultimately couldn’t keep up with Oklahoma City firing on all cylinders.
“I thought we did the things coming down the stretch that maybe in some of these previous games we weren’t able to do,” coach Billy Donovan said postgame. “I thought we were consistent for a good portion of the game.”
Despite getting three fouls in the first six and a half minutes on the court and having to move to the bench (where he then received a questionable technical foul to add to his resume) until the middle of the second quarter, Carmelo Anthony eventually put up 16 points on 4-of-8 from deep along with six rebounds.
There were certain moments where he even started to drive and work more in isolation than he normally does. Anthony did a decent amount of post work, and even though the ball didn’t always go in, it was still an interesting change of pace.
Donovan’s rotations tonight also saw a lot of change. For instance, George came out for about two and a half minutes in the first when he normally plays that entire quarter. George and Russ seemed to be staggered more often, and perhaps the biggest surprise was rookie Terrance Ferguson didn’t even step foot on the floor even though he’s been playing about 14 minutes lately (much to the dismay of many Thunder fans). But, hey, I’m not complaining.
More time for some bench players meant more moments for Jerami Grant, who knocked down 12 points and made all five shots he took from the field. Two blocks were also fruits of his defensive labor.
The Oklahoma City Thunder will host the Golden State Warriors on TNT on Tuesday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. A win clinches the playoffs for the Thunder. Brady Trantham will be in arena for the Thunder.
Keys to the Game
New Orleans has proven an ability to get hot from beyond the arc, and they showed spurts of that tonight. They made 34 percent of their three-pointers, just outshooting the Thunder at 29 percent. Melo sunk 50 percent of his perimeter shots, but didn’t really attempt a high volume of them. It wasn’t terrible, but players who are known to be able to make those shots, especially George, could still work on their consistency.
Having to battle a guy like Davis for rebounds can be difficult, but it didn’t phase Oklahoma City tonight when they grabbed 51 total boards compared to the Pelican’s 44. They now move on to 32-10 on the season when out rebounding their opponents.
Make your free throws: C+
The atrocious free throw shooting lately didn’t turn around overnight. George was the only player to make all of his shots from the line, and the team as a whole shot 72 percent. The fact that New Orleans also struggled a bit in this department may have been a little saving grace, but the Thunder have still got to figure this mess out.We invite you to follow Thunder Digest on Twitter and like Thunder Digest on Facebook. Our Podcast is on iTunes. We also have a Thunder Digest Instagram account if you love fun Thunder photography!