Atop a 43 point performance from Russell Westbrook, the Thunder were able to secure victory against the New Orleans Pelicans, 110-103. Westbrook was crucial for the Thunder down the stretch, scoring on four straight possessions in the final three minutes. Enes Kanter was equally crucial, scoring 24 points in just 31 minutes of action. Both Westbrook and Kanter finished the game shooting over 50%, taking advantage of the lack of any Pelican paint defense.
The Pelicans lacked because of injuries tonight. Anthony Davis is the most notable absence, but they were also missing role players Omer Asik, Norris Cole, and Jrue Holiday. Davis and Asik protect the rim really well, while Cole and Holiday initiate the Pelican offense. Without the two, the Pelicans had to rely on hot shooting to keep themselves in this game. Accordingly, the Pelicans never led during the second half, and only managed to come to within three during the fourth quarter.
Still, it was definitely a battle of philosophies tonight. Alexis Ajinca and Ryan Anderson can't defend very well, but both of them can shoot for their size. Ajinca used this to his advantage for mid-range shots, while Ryan Anderson moved out to three. Anderson got a chance to show his off-the-dribble game as well, hitting a few tough jumpers with defenders on him. This resulted in a very bad game for Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, and Enes Kanter on the defensive end. Ibaka in particular couldn't lock down the perimeter in the late game.
In the backcourt, the Pelicans got limited success from having Ish Smith and Eric Gordon attack around screens. Smith was generally successful when he could get to the rim. But that was rare in non-transition situations, because the Thunder were content to let Ish Smith shoot. Eric Gordon was a bit more skilled of a scorer, and could take advantage of switches easily. But the Thunder were careful to lock Gordon down with Roberson most of the time. This solid perimeter defense, which limited Smith and Gordon to 35% on 40 shots taken, was a major factor in OKC's victory.
Why did the Thunder win this game?
This was really one of those games when you have to just point to Russell Westbrook and Enes Kanter as the most effective players on the floor. Westbrook was effective because he could constantly bully his way into the paint and get to the line. Also, Westbrook didn't have a long defender against him, so he was less prone to turnovers. Meanwhile, Kanter had the matchup of his dreams. Ajinca and Anderson didn't have the strength, nor the footwork to deal with Kanter's power plays in the post. Surprisingly, Kanter and Westbrook's size on the offensive boards was a factor, as well.
- Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters were effectively the starters at center and shooting guard today. Adams and Roberson started, but never re-entered the game after their first and third quarter stints.
- With the return of Andre Roberson tonight, Cameron Payne was thrust back out of the lineup.
- Speaking of Dre, his defense on Eric Gordon was awesome. But Dre also hit a corner three and got a couple of opportunities near the rim. Not too flashy, but there's a reason he got double the minutes Morrow did.
- KD sat on the sideline in his traditional dark blue suit and t-shirt.
- Steven Adams had a lot of trouble dealing with Ajinca, and I think that's why he wasn't given extended minutes tonight. Definitely a frustrating game for Adams, whom finished with 0 points for the first time this season. Interestingly, despite the overall worse stat line, Adams +/- is still one better than Kanter's.
- I really can't blame Kanter's defense for anything tonight. There, I said it!
- Donovan said that he deliberately didn't go small until the end of the game. (Small, in this case, means Ibaka at center and Collison at PF. It happened with 3:17 to go and OKC closed out the game on a 11-9 run.) Despite Donovan's not going small until late, he liked how the Thunder defended the three point line in the second half.
- Is there overreliance on Russ in the fourth quarter? Donovan: "We don't want to become all predicated on [Westbrook]. But I thought we had good movement, and the lane was open for him to attack. And we did a pretty good job of attacking. But you're right, I think there's a couple of possessions where the floor got stagnant."
- Kendrick Perkins was given an ovation by the fans after an on-screen tribute today, and many former players were excited to see him. Perkins didn't play tonight due to a pectoral injury.
- Dion Waiters just couldn't get any positive momentum going tonight. It started after Waiters stripped Anderson, ran down the court, and blew an open layup. But it continued throughout the game, as New Orleans' defenders knew to challenge Waiters' mid-range shot. Dion didn't even attempt to get to the basket on most of his possessions, despite the Pelicans weak interior D. The only two times Waiters got to the basket were in transition and against Jimmer Fredette. Interestingly, Waiters was guarded by a potpourri of different players throughout the game, including Ish Smith, Jimmer Fredette, Eric Gordon, and Toney Douglas.
- Anthony Morrow had three threes tonight. Two of them were directly from Westbrook, while another was this amazing early game play where the Thunder passed the ball three times. Those plays are exceptionally rare, but it was all because of a Westbrook pick and roll anyway. In any case, I definitely like Morrow as a companion for Westbrook much more than I like Singler in that position.
- Kyle Singler's most memorable moment was a steal during a particularly messy play. But really, it was a nice night for Singler. Singler hit a corner three, and even hit a mid-range shot off the dribble. I didn't notice much more from Singler, but he did have the game's highest +/- at 16. Go figure.
- Nick Collison came on late and had a pretty key block on Eric Gordon with a minute and a half to go. I also give Collison major credit for four assists. Three of those assists were simply finding Kanter in the post. I've been ranting about getting Kanter the ball more, so good on Nick for recognizing that.
- D.J. Augustin was a big part of the early fourth quarter run. One assist found Collison in space, while a pair of off the dribble three pointers around screens were essential as well. More proof that Augustin is the master of the pick and roll when the defense commits.
- Luke Babbitt doesn't jump when he shoots his threes, which is ancient.
- Alonzo Gee played 31 minutes and shot the ball twice, hmph.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, the superb swirling supernova
Thunder Down Under: Enes Kanter, more power
Thunder Blunder: Dion Waiters, who will undoubtedly return to Shaqtin'
Thunder Plunderer: Ryan Anderson, who steps back with a fourth the speed and half the effectiveness of steph curry (which is still pretty good)
Next Game: Versus the New York Knicks, Friday, November 20th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!