With Oklahoma City coming off a win for the first time in 28 days, the Thunder were not able to spark a streak, getting nabbed by the Pelicans 109-95. Oklahoma City garners the fifth-best lottery odds given the loss, now sitting at 21-42 on the season. New Orleans on the other hand ended their night with another bracket in mind, the play-in tournament. Given the win, New Orleans now sits just three games back of a play-in seed, holding the 11th spot in the West off a 28-35 record.
Brandon Ingram hit the ground running Thursday piling together six of the Pelicans’ first ten points hoisting up mid-range pull-ups right over Darius Bazley. New Orleans clung to a 10-7 almost solely off Ingram, but as Oklahoma City forced the ball into others’ hands, the Thunder tallied seven-straight tacking a Lu Dort triple with two Darius Bazley penetrations, topped with a spin layup. Off the ensuing hot streak, the Pelicans clapped back with a 12-3 run of their own involving five different contributors in the spurt. New Orleans’ lead prevailed with little commotion until the 1-minute 14-second mark when well-acclaimed signee Gabriel Deck clocked into the scorer’s table for his first Thunder minutes logging a solid box-out and solid contest on a Zion Williamson pull-up jumper which ultimately sunk in. Zion’s 7-footer marked the final basket in the frame as the Pelicans perched upon a 31-20 lead after twelve.
Oklahoma City’s “bench mob” ignited in the second quarter’s onset as three money-balls mixed with a Gabriel Deck drive on Zion Williamson (his first NBA points) pioneered a quick 11-3 run to edge the game back to a single possession. Upon a Stan Van Gunday timeout, the Pelicans rekindled their momentum to extinguish the Thunder’s run, narrowly keeping their head above water until a late 23-5 run exposed the game to 60-43 at the midway point.
Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram brightened the Pelicans early with 16 and 15 respective first-half points as the team’s collective 2-of-11 (18.2%) three-point shooting left a much-needed crevice to be filled. Oklahoma City netted two 10-point first-half scorers in Darius Bazley and Isaiah Roby but not many other key players arose. The Thunder attempted to repeat their red-hot perimeter success in the first half, heaving up 21 threes, but they only converted on a mere 6 tries — that’s a lowly 28.6-percent clip. The overall shot chart from Oklahoma City was not much better as they only made 31-percent of tries in the first, New Orleans shot 51-percent in the first twenty-four.
The third quarter brought a slugfest in which a combined 44 were steamed out. New Orleans cemented their 17-point margin in the infancy stages of the first and Oklahoma City was stuck playing catch up the whole way through. Theo Maledon orchestrated a one-man show in the third tallying 11 quarter points (4-of-6 FG) as the Thunder outscored the Pelicans 25-19 by the end of the frame as they narrowed down the Pelicans lead to its lowest point of the third, but they still were up 79-68 kicking off the fourth.
Despite an 11-point frame from Lu Dort (4-of-5 FG,) New Orleans controlled the fourth of a 17-8 opening run and they never looked back. There were brief moments where the Pelicans showed some vulnerability, especially late in the quarter, but upon Zion Williamson receiving bully-ball opportunities inside, he became a wrecking ball going for a 10-point quarter himself.
As Mark Daigneault addressed postgame, “There were just stretches where we [Oklahoma City] were playing a little dry on offense.” In playing devil’s advocate, neither side shot particularly well with New Orleans going 45-percent to Oklahoma City hitting 38-percent of tries, but it still is no excuse for the lackluster shooting performance.
Reading into the details, the Thunder still resorted to the three for a crutch, but instead, they caved, sinking just 11-of-39 attempts (28.2%.) And in search of the whistle, the officials had none of it — only putting them to the line 20 times, drilling 16.
New Orleans found an easy-bake offense through the defensive end. The Pelicans used Oklahoma City’s 22 turnovers across the night for 23 points on turnovers while slipping in 11 steals and 6 blocks in the game. Zion Williamson overpowered the Thunder the entire way piling up 27 points (12-of-24 FG,) 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. Right behind the former number one pick rested a former second overall selection in Brandon Ingram who etched in 24 points (10-of-20 FG) and 6 rebounds off a plethora of mid-ranges and dribble drives.
Lu Dort led the Thunder with 17 points (5-of-12 FG) laying out 4-of-8 triples across the game using his late-game storm to surge his overall game. Theo Maledon sat right behind Dort with 16 points (5-of-12 FG) also piggybacking off a double-digit quarter to fill in the details. Darius Bazley ended the night with 15 points and 6 rebounds but a blank 0-of-6 night from distance-limited his options to the interior — and with Zion clogging the lane, his 5 turnovers came with a hall pass. Isaiah Roby and Svi Mykhailiuk filled out the bench with 13 and 12 points respectively. Roby served out a little of everything with his 13-piece flaring his 5-of-9 game with a 2-of-3 perimeter showing (both makes off stepbacks) while staying firm inside for 9 rebounds and 3 steals. Mykhailiuk stuck to his repertoire of spotting up well-draining 4-of-7 shooting including 2 threes.
Moses Brown didn’t find himself headlining the scorecard but with 5 points and a game-high 18 rebounds, he was impressive. Brown was a tad shaky offensively, air balling a layup and adding up two offensive fouls in consecutive drives, though his persistence off of misfires made up for it.
Brown logged his biggest minute output of the month with 32 ticks Thursday and while Tony Bradley’s absence and Isaiah Roby’s time at the four can make this situation clearer — but it speaks to more than that. Brown as of late has been pulled and benched early due to foul troubles, this was no perfect game as he picked up 4 personal fouls, but he kept calm and collective down the stretch. That’s a personal win for himself and after Mark Daigneault for opting to keep him on the floor.
Gabriel Deck had been hyped up for weeks leading into his NBA debut, and he did not let anyone down. The 6-foot-6 forward shot a barren 1-of-5 overall (0-of-3 3pt FG,) but his 2 assists and defense stood out in his 15 minutes. Deck posted a highlight play snagging a loose ball 8-feet out from the rim, immediately scooping up the ball drawing in two defenders off what looked to be a layup — it was a facade. Deck took in both defenders dishing a behind-the-back pass en route to an Isaiah Roby lay-in which sent the Thunder bench into a shockwave.
Deck not only played stern on defense but he also took on Zion Williamson for the better part of his run. “Pretty impressive. Deck’s a big guy, he’s a tough guy. He did a really good job on him. Knows how to play. He made a good first impression tonight,” said Daigneault.
The Oklahoma City Thunder (21-42) will look to get back into the win column as they begin a back-to-back set Saturday against the Indiana Pacers (29-33.)