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Late Thunder comeback falls just short to Pelicans, 119-123

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Westbrook and Durant scored a combined 24 points in the final 6 minutes, but it wasn't enough.

Pierre the Pelican, he never leaves your nightmares....!
Pierre the Pelican, he never leaves your nightmares....!
W. Bennett Berry

In a disappointing late season result, the Oklahoma City Thunder have fallen to the New Orleans Pelicans, 119-123. It was a tightly contested game throughout, with neither team going up by more than 10 points. But the Pelicans held the lead for the majority of the game. The closest the Pelicans came to pulling away came with about three and a half minutes to go in the fourth. The Pelicans had amassed a 12 point lead, thanks to a surprise small lineup that allowed them to space the floor.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook wouldn't go down without a fight, though. Over the last couple of minutes, they made the floor into their personal show. Westbrook got to the rim effortlessly twice, and hit an off the dribble three. KD had a really slithery drive between two defenders, which is a rare thing for him these days. With about 1:15 to go, the Thunder had brought the Pelicans lead down to just 3.

But the Thunder were forced to play without a rim protector, and they paid for it. Holiday and Anthony Davis got into the pick and roll. AD got Westbrook on the switch, and Westbrook was forced to foul. AD made two free throws, leaving the Pelicans up 5 with just a minute left. Westbrook tried to respond by running to the rim on Holiday, and his shot barely rimmed out.

The Pelicans put Holiday back into the pick and roll, and he got a mismatch with Ibaka. Ibaka deterred the shot in the post. But, again, the Thunder were centerless. So the Pelicans were able to grab the rebound and waste more time. The ensuing Anderson 3 was short, leaving OKC 18 seconds to make up 5 points. After a timeout, KD nailed an off the dribble three around a Westbrook screen.

The Pelicans, up two, would have to rely on Jrue Holiday to hit both of his free throws. Holiday did, and the Pelicans were up four. Westbrook tried to respond with a miracle three, but it came up short and the game was all over.

Box ScorePlay-by-Play/Shot ChartPopcorn Machine Russell Westbrook 44 Pts HighlightsKevin Durant 32 Pts HighlightsAnthony Davis 30 Pts HighlightsInside the NBA HalftimeNBATV Analysis |

KD and Westbrook ruled the court

This is one of those games where you can't blame Durant and Westbrook for the loss. Yes, it's true they they both hijacked the offense for themselves. But against the Pelicans, it makes sense. Jared Cunningham and Anthony Davis generally can't guard KD, while Alonzo Gee certainly can't guard Westbrook. Furthermore, the Pelicans were playing without a rim protector for the first time in the game. This made it easier for the dribble-drive games of Westbrook and Durant to shine. In all honesty, I wish Gentry had gone to the small lineup earlier.

Durant and Westbrook were generally offensively dominant throughout the game, though. KD primarily specialized in taking advantage of mismatches, and went to the Dirk leg jumper often. Durant's three point game was there as well, and I admired that KD shot a couple of this threes off screens. Westbrook had his second highest scoring game of the season to this point, with 44. As you can imagine, Westbrook's points were from all over the place. Open threes, contested threes. Spin moves in the post. Cotton shots. And insane drives to the rim.

Don't forget, Westbrook had 9 assists as well. Insane, insane amount of offensive wizardry. Five of those 9 assists were to KD, showing you just how effective the duo was in combination today.

So, why did the Thunder lose?

Second chance points. The Pelicans had 17 of them, courtesy 14 offensive rebounds. Some of that was just hustle, as the Thunder were tired from playing yesterday in Dallas. Other offensive boards happened because the Thunder had overcommitted to protect the rim.

Also, the Thunder never really took Jrue Holiday or Ryan Anderson seriously as scoring threats. I mean, during the TNT interview at the end of the second quarter, Billy Donovan was talking about defending Anthony Davis, and his various options there. It's true that Davis would finish as the Pelicans leading scorer, witth 30. But Ryan Anderson was right behind with 24, and Jrue Holiday with 21. Anderson was able to draw whatever matchup he wanted, utilizing endless turnaround jumpers. Holiday got tons of space around screens, and didn't have much trouble getting to the basket.

Of course, it's hard to defend these guys when Anthony Davis is the roll man. I get it. But I still think Donovan could have played it smarter. Nick Collison only played 4 minutes tonight, but could have really helped. Collison shut down Anderson in post ups earlier this season, so I don't see why he couldn't have been used today. Furthermore, I think Donovan's decision to go with Ibaka as the primary defender for AD down the stretch was a bad idea. Ibaka was playing center, but also had to stay glued to an opposing superstar.

I know I'm really railing on this, but think about it. Kendrick Perkins was on the floor, and helped the Pelicans to go on a couple of runs. Offensively. That's how broken the Thunder defense was tonight.

Toney Douglas, who's averaging 6 points on the year, got 12 tonight. A pair of threes for him, along with a drive to the rim, a transition score, and an offensive rebound. In other words, energy points from all over. Another example of how bad OKC's defense was.

Slammin' Notes

  • Norris Cole also had a really nice offensive game with 20 points. But he played more between the seams, scoring whenever the Thunder left him room or in transition. I never felt Cole was a threat that OKC just couldn't contrain like Holiday and Anderson.
  • Anthony Davis had a pretty productive game, shooting 43% and scoring 30 points. As expected, AD was fearsome in the pick and roll, as well as whenever he could get a mismatch. Donovan appeared to want Adams as Davis' primary defender, but he drew two quick fouls. So for the majority of the game, Davis was guarded by Ibaka. The whole thing felt like a 50/50 wash. I was really impressed with how nimble Davis looked when shooting near KD or Ibaka. But I was also impressed with Adams ability to deny Davis at the rim.
  • AD had a couple of clutch denials of Russell Westbrook at the rim in the fourth quarter. One was a soaring block in transition, while the other was a straight up drive. Davis is the only player in the NBA that could have affected either of those shots, I think.
  • Dion Waiters had another really positive game, following his comeback game in Dallas. On the positive side, Waiters was able to stop two Anderson post-ups, as well as nab a couple of steals. Waiters distribution was really good as well, as he swung the ball from side to side and always moved with purpose. Even Waiters corner threes were on today, as he went 50%. On the negative side, Waiters let Douglas and Holiday into the paint a couple of times, and couldn't stop two other Anderson post-ups. There was also a pretty bad stepback on Holiday. But all in all, the Thunder should win most of the time Dion plays this way.
  • Serge Ibaka had another one of those games where he starts out hot, but fades into complete obscurity by the time the game is over. I understand that Ibaka had a tough defensive assignment. But after a 15 point game, why does Ibaka only take one attempt in the fourth quarter? And why is that attempt a wide open miss? Agh. Anyway, up until the fourth, Ibaka was having a great game. He scored twice at the basket on side pick and rolls, nailed a flip shot in the lane, and swished a hook over Cunningham. The most impressive play of all, though, is when Ibaka got Perk to come out to the three point line and just strode past him for a dunk. That was pretty choice.
  • Kendrick Perkins was out of his mind tonight. As soon as Perk checked into the game, he literally shoved Enes Kanter out of the way for an offensive rebound. OFF OF A FREE THROW! That's some serious strength. Perk's aggressiveness continued, as he outright shoved Ibaka at one point. Perk also somehow had two assists for threes in the fourth quarter, because the Thunder were so bad at trapping. The last play Perk made in the game was to aggressively hug Westbrook, whisper something to him, and leave. Supposedly, it was to stop Westbrook from getting to the rim. I think Perk just wanted to say goodbye.
  • Andre Roberson had another one of those 0fer games, meaning that there's bound to be some angry fan in the comments section that questions why he plays at all. But Roberson didn't get any fourth quarter minutes tonight. I noted a couple of nice defensive plays he had, stopping a Holiday turnaround and negating AD at the rim. But there weren't any real momentum-pushing plays from Dre tonight. There was one tipped pass, but it didn't trigger the break. And Dre had a couple of opportunities to score, once in transition and once in the corner, but couldn't capitalize.
  • Enes Kanter has a good looking box score, but was overall ineffective. Despite 8 points on over 50% shooting, Kanter generally has more offensive production than he had tonight. But Kanter was constantly swarmed down low. And if the Thunder forced the ball to him, Kanter generally wouldn't have the vision to handle it responsibly. A couple of Kanter's early shots were blocked by double-teams while Kanter had shooters in the corners. Those shots were painful reminders of Kanter's bad decision making. Kanter's defense was also very sink or swim. There were some occasions where Kanter's size near the rim, or hustle to defend a shot paid off. But ultimately, Kanter wasn't effective at defending the pick and roll, nor protecting the rim. And it may have cost the Thunder tonight, given Kanter's lack of offense.
  • Steven Adams primarily spent his time guarding Anthony Davis. When it came to protecting the rim, Adams succeeded every single time. But Davis was able to evade Adams for jumpshots more than half the time, due to his superior quickness. Still, Adams had a big effect on the overall game. I counted nine defensive stops due to a shot that Adams was guarding, and only two defensive plays where I felt like Adams messed up. Most of the stops were directly on AD, but Adams had a couple of nice rim protections on drives as well. Offensively, Adams had a couple of opportunistic baskets under the rim, as well as a long flip shot. Adams flip shot is seriously good.
  • Randy Foye had a pretty solid game. Offensively, Foye scored driving from the corner and on and offensive rebound. Foye's misses were a botched layup and three point attempt in transition. Defensively, Foye didn't really come into play until late in the fourth quarter. Foye had to guard Jrue Holiday around screens. Foye gave space for a good Pelican shot three times, which was really frustrating. But one of those shots luckily missed, and Foye was able to hold Anderson on a post up. Overall I don't think that the Thunder players were communicating with Foye well enough to have him out there as an offensive threat, so I blame Donovan for putting a middle of the road defender out there against Holiday. Foye himself was really good though, and I still think he could make a huge difference for this team. It'll just take some time to get him integrated.
  • Kyle Singler. What was he doing out there? The only shot was a miss on a drive that Foye got him. It was that really clumsy-looking floater Singler does, and I've only seen it go down like once. Singler also drew an offensive foul in transition, so I guess it's all good. Overall, a VERY uneventful 17 minutes.
  • Cam Payne....DNP-CD. That's inexcusably terrible, and should never happen again.

Marina's Awards

Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, amateur head stander

Thunder Down Under: Kevin Durant, the slithery scorer

Thunder Blunder: Enes Kanter, who needs to watch some Pau Gasol highlights

Thunder Plunderer: Anthony Davis, a rival to KD for years to come

Next Game: Versus the Golden State Warriors, Saturday, February 27th, 7:30 PM Central Standard Time.

What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!