The Oklahoma City Thunder resoundingly defeated the shorthanded New Orleans Pelicans, 116-94. The Thunder led by 13 points at halftime, and then used a dominant defensive 3rd quarter to stretch the lead to 25 heading into the 4th quarter. With the lead in hand, the all-star duo Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who finished with a combined 51 points, 11 rebounds, and 12 assists, got the 4th quarter off.
Along with Durant & Westbrook, the Thunder also got a dominant performance from Serge Ibaka, who was a defensive menace to the Pelicans, who were playing without Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday, and Ryan Anderson. In perspective, defense should not have been an issue for the Thunder, but it is satisfying to confirm that, no, OKC did not give up any point bursts to some random guy. Because of this, the game was never in doubt.
The Pelicans were led by Darius Miller, who finished with 18 points and 3 assists.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
Once the Pelicans announced that they were essentially shutting down all of their key contributors for the remainder of the season, and given that OKC is finally back at full strength, this game was mere formality. From the opening tip, Westbrook and Durant put constant pressure on the Pelican defense without ever going out of control or forcing things. The result was a game where the Thunder did all of the things that they should have been doing against a weak opponent.
Also, it seems like an unofficial game that we all play, but play it we do, so here goes.
Luke Babbitt's hair makes him look like...one of the extras who live in Fleabottom on Game of Thrones.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?
Durant and Westbrook did their thing, but special props to 2 guys:
Serge Ibaka was a defensive menace, blocking 8 shots on the night and challenging almost everything that came into the paint. While he still gets caught tracking the ball from time to time instead of staying in position defense, his recovery and explosiveness on the ball are really remarkable. There were a number of highlights, but the two that stand out were when he blocked a layup on one end and then raced to the other end of the court to be the first one to the rim, and Durant fed him with a pretty bounce pass for the jam. The second one was when Austin Rivers swiped the ball and seemed to have an uncontested dunk, but Ibaka, trailing on the play, casually chased him down the court and then at the last second exploded to the rim and blocked the dunk. Amazing stuff, and Ibaka was probably the biggest reason why the Thunder had no trouble dispatching the Pelicans.
Update: @JDonSports has the block
(As remarkable as this sequence is, I kind of came away from it feeling sad for the 'Cans. You could see it in their body language as they didn't even try to contest Durant's dunk; they are a good young team that really, really need this season to be over)
Secondly, Reggie Jackson played a really solid game without even really doing anything mind blowing. Rather, for stretches when the two 2nd units were going against each other, he exhibited total control of the Thunder offense. He set people up beautifully, got to the rim when he needed to, and gave the OKC starters an extended break because he was in such control. His final numbers of 11-8-4 aren't going to overwhelm you, but for long stretches, RJ was the best player on the court.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
There is a plethora of statistics you could point to, but the most surprising one is that the Thunder outscored the Pelicans in fast break points, 28-0. You read that correctly. New Orleans did not record a single fast break point. How is this possible? I think it is in part due to the Thunder's good shooting (53%), discipline on taking too many 3-pointers (5-13) which can lead to long rebounds and fast breaks, and by simply getting back well on defense.
It isn't a stat that is likely to be replicated, but it is important to note it on this night because OKC had gotten into the habit of giving up way too many easy buckets (especially transition 3's) in the past few months.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
The Thunder inch closer to locking in their #2 seeding, which is really all that matters at this point, to not get sloppy and let the Clippers slip in.
OKC next plays the Pacers on Sunday afternoon, and honestly, I have no idea what Indiana is going to look like. For the first 2/3 of the season they looked like they were Heat-wreckers, but now they have dropped 9 of their last 13 games, including a baffling 6 games where they failed to even score 80 points. Perhaps having the Thunder visit them on Sunday will awaken the beast, but if they show up like they did against the last few teams they've played, the Thunder may be resting their starters again in the 4th.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, 24 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, 16 points, 10 rebounds, 8 blocks
Thunder Blunder: Westbrook missed a double-clutch reverse slam. That's all I got.
Thunder Plunderer: Darius Miller, 18 points, 3 assists
Next game: @ Indiana Pacers on Sunday, April 13 at 12PM CDT