Thunder Beat Pelicans In Emotional Game
By A. Suave Francisco
The New Orleans Pelicans looked intimidating entering Sunday night's game and after Anthony Davis scored 24 first quarter points that intimidation factor escalated, but thanks to Oklahoma City's interior defense, Davis slowed down and so did newly acquired center, DeMarcus Cousins. Although the Thunder as a team played very well, Russell Westbrook as usual, finished the game off, propelling the Thunder to a 118-110 win.
Two technical fouls were committed in the first 32 seconds of the game by Steven Adams and Cousins. That alone set a chippy tone for the rest of the contest, which turned out to fall in OKC's favor. At this point, the entire NBA knows about Cousins and his emotions on the court. Adams took advantage of that early in the game by forcing two fouls, which put Cousins on the bench for the remainder of the opening quarter.
We had an answer for Cousins, but not for Davis who made up for his teammate's absence in the first by scoring 24 points. The Thunder didn't really have an answer for him and it appeared as if it would be a long, debilitating night for the Thunder bigs.
That narrative didn't change in the second quarter either. Anthony Davis stopped scoring, so things were starting to look better for the Thunder but that's when Cousins checked back in and went on his own 19-point barrage, keeping the Pelicans in the game while terrorizing OKC's bigs.
By halftime, head coach Billy Donovan clearly knew what went wrong and he made those adjustments because OKC came out in the third with a new mindset on how they'd attack Cousins and Davis on both ends of the floor. The ultimate answer defensively was Enes Kanter and Taj Gibson. Kanter may be a surprise to many, but this is Gibson's strong suit. Their scrappiness and hustle against both Cousins and Davis worked and forced them to shoot 6-of-19 in the second half after they shot 16-of-23 in the first half.
Steven Adams can't go unnoticed, though, as he pulled down 10 total rebounds, 9 of which were offensive. He extended plenty of possessions, which resulted in 22-second chance points. Adams also finished with a double-double by scoring 13 points.
Offensively, the Thunder looked great for the second-straight game. There's a new confidence on the offensive end of the floor from Andre Roberson in particular, scoring 9 points on a perfect 4-of-4 from the floor. Kanter played one of his best games in a Thunder uniform on both ends of the floor. We've mentioned his contribution on the defensive end, but his 20 points and 9 rebounds (3 offensive) showed that he's found his rhythm again in just his second game back since he missed 12 due to that forearm injury.
Four Thunder players scored in double-figures, but Westbrook's 41 points, were by far the most impressive because he entered the fourth with 20. He single-handedly closed the game out with 21 points and didn't even start the fourth quarter. The most identifying moment was the massive dunk over Cousins, which also fouled the Pelicans big man out of the game. Westbrook's 41 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds make for his 29th triple-double of the season, which leaves him 12 short of Oscar Robinson's record with 23 games to go. He's on track to finish just 1 shy of the record.
The Thunder are playing without a key player in Victor Oladipo, but look more lethal on both ends of the floor. Oladipo's return should give this team another boost, which could be scary (in a good way) with the playoffs right around the corner.
OKC will get one day to rest and will be back in action at home on Tuesday against the Utah Jazz, who currently occupy the fourth spot in the Western Conference at (37-22) on the season. The Thunder improve to (34-25), and sit on the Memphis Grizzlies heels for the sixth playoff spot, just a half game back.