Thunder Power Through Grief To Pound Pelicans
By Randy Renner
Veteran Thunder forward Nick Collison gave his teammates some good advice a few minutes they took the floor last night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“Nick said ‘we’ve got a couple hours to play basketball so let’s just do that,’ and that’s what we did,” Kevin Durant told reporters after the Thunder used a big second half to beat New Orleans 121-95.
“Forget everything around us and just play the game of basketball.”
Earlier in the day at Thunder shoot-around Anthony Morrow said, “I have no idea,” when asked if he and his teammates would be able to focus on the game just a few hours after learning of the death of Ingrid Williams, the beloved wife of popular Thunder assistant coach Monty Williams.
“It’s still tough, still fresh in our minds,” Durant said, “but with the love from the crowd and the coaches we all just leaned on each other and played.”
The minutes leading up to tipoff, with a moment of silence and a more somber tone during player introductions were the most difficult to deal with and for the first few minutes of the game players on both teams (Williams had been head coach in New Orleans for five years) seemed more lost in thoughts than focused on game plans.
But the Thunder, playing at home, were able to power through the distractions much better than the Pelicans who were playing on the second night of a back-to-back.
"I really appreciated all of our guys, the way they all have handled a really difficult situation these past 24 hours and being able to go out and play," said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan who wasn’t totally sure before the game how his team would respond.
The Thunder got off to a hot start offensively, scoring 29 points in the first quarter and 33 in the second but as we’ve seen lately the defense struggled at times in the first 24 minutes, allowing the Pelicans to shoot 53.5 percent and stay within range at 62-53 as the teams left the court at halftime.
Coming out in the second half, the Thunder managed to flip the switch and turn on the defensive effort holding the Pelicans to just 42 points in the entire second half on 33.3 percent shooting.
Durant and All-Star teammate Russell Westbrook each finished with 23 points and neither had to play in the fourth quarter. Westbrook came with a rebound of another triple-double finishing with 10 assists and nine boards. Serge Ibaka was solid with 18 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. Backup center Enes Kanter continued his mastery of double-doubles scoring 11 points and pulling down 11 rebounds.
The Thunder now head off to the All-Star break having won 14 of their last 16 games and 40 on the season. Just two other teams, Golden State (48) and San Antonio (45), have won at least 40 games this NBA season.
Durant has been blistering hot over these last 16 games, averaging 30.0 points on 49 percent shooting. After the game he and Westbrook boarded a private jet, along with some other Thunder staffers, for a flight to Toronto and the NBA All-State Game. KD and Russ are the only teammates in the starting lineups for Sunday’s game.
The Thunder will resume practice on Wednesday and will return to action Friday night hosting the Indiana Pacers.