A. Suave Francisco
Defense has been a major problem for the Oklahoma City Thunder since the second week of the season but Billy Donovan and company found a remedy for that as they defeated a slightly below average New Orleans Pelicans team 101-92 on Sunday night at home. Russell Westbrook claimed his fifth straight triple-double and his tenth of the season with 21 points, 13 assists, and 17 rebounds.
Stopping Anthony Davis may have been the only gameplan OKC had coming into this game, due to him being the only player that has been producing for New Orleans. Early on it didn't look like that plan was working after he notched 24 points in the first half. Early in the third quarter things still didn't look great either with his point total at 32. It wasn't until late in the third that OKC found a working formula for Davis scoring the ball. That working formula was primarily Jeremi Grant, a player that probably should've started the game.
Donovan attempted putting Steven Adams on Davis to start the game and got torched. Davis scored 8 straight points until Adams left the game with a sprained ankle. After Adams, they tried Sabonis who accumulated four fouls in a short period of time, and Davis capitalized on that. Enes Kanter had a productive offensive outing, but like his fellow big men, couldn't stop Davis and couldn't keep him off the boards as usual. When 22-year-old Jerami Grant entered the game and got warmed up, he slowed Davis down significantly, scoring just 5 points in the final quarter and shooting 2-for-7 from the field. He ended with 15 rebounds on the night and the Thunder will accept that if Davis isn't allowed to take the game over down the stretch like he did last season.
The game wouldn't have been as close if Buddy Hield wouldn't have exploded for 13 points in the final quarter. The former Oklahoma Sooner's return was highly anticipated by Thunder fans but their wish almost ended up biting them in a bad place. It looked like Buddy was back in the Lloyd Noble Center hoisting up threes again. After air-balling his first three, badly, he turned around and scored 16 points in 15 minutes on 6-for-12 shooting, adding 4 rebounds as well.
"It felt better when I made shots. It's been a long time... I haven't felt like that in a long time. It's so great to get back in there and get in a rhythm and see the ball go through the net. I've been struggling the last couple of games, but I feel more confident. I feel like this helped me in the long run and during the season. It will help me be able to boost my teammates."
At the end of the day, this was a solid win for Oklahoma City as they improve to 13-8 on the season, tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for fifth in the Western Conference and just a half-game behind Houston for fourth. The Thunder will play yet another back-to-back in Atlanta (10-11) tomorrow evening. This is a game that theoretically, they should win, provided the Thunder play like the did in the second half against New Orleans.