In what was probably their best game of the season, the Oklahoma City Thunder stole a road game against a very good Pelicans team to escape New Orleans by the skin of their teeth by winning 111-110.
This was probably the most balanced offensive game for the entire team this season, where everybody who touched the floor contributed to this impressive win.
Let’s start with the starters. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was fantastic tonight as he finished with 21 points, nine assists, and five steals. The last time these two teams met, Shai had his worst game of the season as he finished with just eight points.
Shai was one of the fourth quarter heroes this game as he baited his defender on a shooting foul from beyond the arc, Shai nailed all three free throws to give the Thunder a one-point lead with 47.6 seconds left.
One of my notes heading into this game was waiting to see how Shai would respond after essentially being locked up by the New Orleans backcourt last time these teams met. And he did a great job at making the right adjustments and producing despite elite defenders hounding him all game long in Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe.
The other young player who really impressed tonight was Darius Bazley, as he finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Bazley came out of intermission hot, scoring the team’s first 11 points in a variety of ways. Bazley has mentioned numerous times this season that he wants to use his versatility to the team’s advantage and that showed tonight with his multi-way scoring game.
On the defensive side, however, it felt unfair that Bazley was stuck on an island against a monster like Zion Williamson, who finished with 29 points. But Bazley has shown eagerness in seeking out these types of challenges on defense, so I would not be surprised if he welcomed the challenge of defending the 6’6, 284 lbs monster.
Lu Dort was relatively quiet tonight on offense as he only scored nine points, but the fact that nine points are considered a tame night for Dort speaks highly of his offensive improvement this season. On defense, Dort did a great job at guarding the final possession.
George Hill scored 13 points, including sinking the game-winning free throws. Hill had a nice bounce-back game in New Orleans after scoring just three points in Miami last time.
Al Horford only scored eight points but came up clutch in the end, hitting a deep three to give the Thunder the lead with 1:59 left.
Horford struggled to score but was able to contribute in other ways tonight such as grabbing seven boards and blocking three shots.
Mike Muscala continues his slow rise as the sixth man for this team with 18 points on 5-of-7 shooting from three tonight that included scoring nine straight in the fourth quarter to give OKC a modest lead.
Muscala had nine 10+ point games in 47 games last season; this season, Muscala already has four such games through seven games.
Muscala continues to impress with his shooting and has really stepped up this season in the veterans’ role for such a young bench. His trade value continues to rise after each game.
The other two bench players who played really well tonight were Hamidou Diallo and Theo Maledon. Diallo finished with nine points and three assists and showed how big of a weapon he can be in transition with his elite speed and athleticism.
Maledon scored six points and assisted on four baskets but also turned the ball over three times. Maledon did a respectable job as the backup point guard in his 19 minutes of action.
Kenrich Williams and Isaiah Roby were also positives on the court tonight. Williams did a great job at staying active defensively against his former team and Roby continues to take advantage of the minutes he gets by scoring five points.
I mentioned in the preview that sometimes in order for teams to win games, they just need to hit at a decent clip from the outside and that is exactly what happened tonight.
The Thunder shot 19-of-46 (41.3%) from three while the Pelicans only went 4-of-22 (18.2%). OKC was struggling from three as a team in the previous three games, but they finally broke through that glass tonight.
For a team that shoots as many threes as the Thunder do, they need to hit them at a respectable level or it will be extremely difficult to win games regardless of what else they do.
Tonight’s game also marked the first career triple-double for Pelicans’ center Steven Adams as he finished with 10 points, 10 assists, and 11 rebounds. It is pretty poetic that Adams got his first career triple-double against his former team.
Head coach Mark Daigneault mentioned postgame that Adams always had that playmaking ability in his time with the Thunder, comparing to quarterbacking an offense.
Speaking of Adams, how nice is it for him to go from one elite midrange shooter in Chris Paul to Brandon Ingram in consecutive seasons? Ingram’s midrange game is so pretty and always hits nothing but net.
In Wednesday’s game, he finished with 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting.
The Pelicans have a plethora of young players but it is clear who their two best are in Williamson and Ingram.
Next Game: The Thunder travel to New York to play the Knicks on Friday.