The Thunder make it five in a row: Five Thoughts
By: Alberto Bodei, Staff Writer.
Last night, the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 122-116.
Unfortunately, the main news from this game is Russell Westbrook’s injury. The Thunder’s All-Star fell and rolled his ankle near the end of the third quarter. It looked bad from the beginning because Westbrook screamed very loud and he wasn’t able to put weight on his leg. It’s still unclear how long OKC’s point guard will have to sit out.
Despite the bad news for Thunder fans, the game itself has been an entertaining one to watch. Both teams battled hard in the first half, with the Thunder taking control in the first quarter (36-28) and the Pelicans bouncing back in the second (35-26) thanks to an unstoppable Julius Randle.
In the third quarter, Oklahoma City showed once again all its potential on both ends of the floor and ran away, closing the period with a fourteen points lead.
The team and the arena were still shocked and worried about Westbrook, but Oklahoma City reacted pretty well and didn’t lose its composure through the last twelve minutes. Every time New Orleans would cut the lead, the Thunder responded, and even if they made it harder for themselves in the last minute (Pelicans cut the lead to two points with 23 seconds left) they were able to get away with another important win. The fifth in a row.
Westbrook goes down
With four and a half left in the third quarter, Russell Westbrook went up to contest Anthony Davis, he failed to stop him, and on his way back down he screamed. It felt really bad, Westbrook was holding his knee and everyone was expecting the worst. The energy was sucked out of the arena. However, the replay showed that is not the knee but a really bad ankle rolling. The first information reports about a sprained ankle (no grade or timetable yet), but the x-ray was negative. It’s really a big blow for Oklahoma City, not only because they lose their best player, but also because the team was starting to roll and gel together.
Last night, the big Kiwi was impressive, once again, on both ends of the floor. First of all, he did an outstanding job on Anthony Davis and held him to only twenty points on 7-20 from the floor. Second, he provided a much-needed contribution on the offense. Adams finished with eighteen points on 9-12 from the floor, plus eight rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block. He finished the game also with the highest +/- of the team with a +22.
Defense & Steals
Entering last night’s game, the Pelicans were averaging 14.4 turnovers per game. The Thunder forced New Orleans to turn the ball over twenty-one times. Oklahoma City did a great job on defense, and it translated also on the offense: twenty-eight points scored out of Pelicans’ turnovers.
Defense and steals have been a main focus for this team since the beginning of this season. The Thunder are leading the league in steals per game at 11.7, and they are 5th in defensive rating at 105.4. If Oklahoma City is able to keep these defensive numbers up consistently, then life will be easier also on the offensive end of the floor.
Despite Westbrook went down during the third quarter, Oklahoma City was able to outscore the Pelicans 38-23. A mix between solid offense and outstanding defense is the main reason why the Thunder were able to take over the game after the long break. This has been recurring since the beginning of the season: this team is very good during the third quarter. In fact, Oklahoma City leads the league in plus/minus during the third period with a + 5.3. The Thunder also lead the league in net rating with an impressive 20.3 (1st in offensive rating at 122.8 - 6th in Defensive Rating at 102.5).
Last night has been a team-win. Everyone stepped in and contributed on both ends of the floor. It was really fun to watch. Starters and second-unit mixed up well together and everyone was ready to step in when their number was called. This is an aspect that shouldn’t be overlooked. Schröder, Abrines, Patterson, Diallo, Noel, and even Felton last night, can all provide sparks while replacing or playing with the starters. There are obviously some aspects still to be adjusted, but the core of this team is very solid, probably for the first time in a few years.
The Thunder will play on Wednesday in Cleveland against the Cavaliers. Tip off 6pm CT.