The Oklahoma City Thunder won the first of this two game home and home series against the young New Orleans Pelicans. It was a close back and forth game that you would expect against two teams that share similar talent level. The Thunder played great for three of the four quarters but had one really bad quarter that forced them to mount a comeback in the fourth quarter to get the win tonight. Here are 10 takeaways from this game.
1) The Thunder broke out with a hot start this game, building a 34-26 lead after the 1st quarter with Steven Adams scoring 10 of the team’s first 13 points. What’s frustrating with Adams hot start is he didn’t do much afterwards, scoring just four points after that point on just four more shots but boy did he make those four points count. Adams scored on a tip in and a dunk late in two consecutive possessions late in the game, pushing their lead from 105-104 to 109-104 that essentially sealed the deal. Adams finished this game with a double double of 14 points and 12 rebounds. Everybody knew coming into this game that the Pelicans have a relatively weak frontcourt and Adams could bully Jaxson Hayes, why didn’t the Thunder make it a focus to feed Adams some more? Alas, the Thunder did take advantage of the Pelicans weak frontcourt by scoring 50 points in the paint but you’d still like to see Adams more involved.
2) Dennis Schroder is such an extreme player. He’s either really good or really bad, no in between with him. Tonight the Thunder got the really good version of Schroder. Schroder was great tonight off the bench, scoring 25 points and dishing out seven assists. Schroder taking 24 shots is alarming but hey points are points. Schroder scored 10 of those points in the 4th quarter helping mound a comeback win against the Pelicans.
3) Man Abdel Nader has been somewhat of a punching bag for Thunder fans, getting a ton of warranted and unwarranted criticism. Nader has been known for being a practice legend but when the lights turn on he goes shy, but that hasn’t been the case these last two games. Nader has shot the ball fantastic, after scoring a career high 23 points against the Blazers Wednesday night, Nader continued that hot start by scoring 19 points on 7-11 shooting, including 4-5 from three, this game. You can just tell by his body language that Nader is oozing with swag on the court lately and hopefully he continues to increase his confidence for his sake and the fanbase’s sake.
4) Brandon Ingram is so good. There were concerns with him after three inconsistent seasons with the Lakers and his long term health due to the blood clot issues he developed that shut down his season last year. But man he’s been super good this season and that continued tonight. Games like tonight show why Ingram was taken 2nd overall in the 2016 NBA Draft. Ingram finished with 26 points on 11-17 shooting with four assists and six rebounds. It’s just so hard to defend somebody like Ingram, he got whatever shot he wanted when he drove to the basket using his massive wingspan. Ingram looked like a KD Lite out there and his numbers back it up this season, averaging a career high 25.9 PPG on a super-efficient 59.4 TS%.
5) Danilo Gallinari had another typical night for his standards, scoring a bunch of points on high efficiency. In tonight’s game, Gallinari had 17 points on just 5-11 shooting. Gallinari also grabbed seven rebounds and impressed with his passing by getting five dimes. Gallinari had a really nifty bounce pass between the legs that led to a Adams’ dunk in the 1st quarter. Gallinari’s passing is an underrated part of his game, he’s a pick man who can dish it out when his roller finds the right seam.
6) Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been slumping lately and that continued tonight. Gilgeous-Alexander scored just 10 points on 4-13 shooting with four TOs. When you mix a sophomore player struggling with an elite perimeter defensive player like Jrue Holiday on the opposing team, these are the type of results you’ll get most of the time.
7) This win masked the Thunder’s 3rd quarter struggles creeping up again. The Thunder got outscored in the third 31-17. Entering this game, the Thunder had a NRG of -20.3 in 3rd quarters this season, 29th in the league. Thunder got stagnant on offense and the defense struggled against the Pelicans. This was looking like a bad blowout game to a bad Pelicans game heading into the 4th quarter.
8) Speaking of the 4th quarter, the Thunder did a complete 180 degree spin. Led by unlikely heroes Schroder and Nader, the Thunder led a comeback in the 4th quarter, outscoring the Pelicans 30-20. The Thunder ended the game on a 9-2 run while holding the Pelicans 1-11 shooting in that run. Great 4th quarter after a horrible 3rd quarter, great example of how inconsistent this team is.
9) Chris Paul was pretty quiet tonight, playing just 29 minutes and scoring just seven points on 3-9 shooting with five assists. It looks like the Thunder are making it a higher priority to manage Paul’s minutes these last couple games after having five straight 30+ minute games.
10) The Thunder did great in defending the perimeter, holding the Pelicans to 11-38 from three this game. The Pelicans were 2nd in the league in 3PMs at 15.1 a game, only behind the three point loving Houston Rockets.
Next Game: These two teams play again in New Orleans on Sunday.