Last night, the Oklahoma City Thunder lost against the New Orleans Pelicans, 118-114 the final score.
The Pelicans (15-15) came into yesterday’s game without Mirotic, Moore, and Payton, but it didn’t matter much. In fact, New Orleans played most of the time trough Davis and Randle, who destroyed the Thunder in the paint. The Pelicans’ duo not only torched Oklahoma City with scoring (even though they combined for sixty-six points) but also with the offensive rebounding (eight totals). The Thunder didn’t have an answer mostly because Grant was in foul trouble at the beginning of the third quarter, and Patterson (who played too many minutes) doesn’t have the body or power to keep up with either Randle or Davis.
The game had its ups and downs for Oklahoma City, after a good first quarter, the Pelicans ended the first half up by one point. Everytime New Orleans tried to run away, the Thunder had a response and stayed in the game until the final seconds. Oklahoma City had not once, but twice the possibility to take the lead in the final twenty-five seconds, but in both situations, they failed to score from behind the arc. The first miss came from Russell Westbrook right after Donovan’s time out, then, after Randle missed two free-throws, Abrines missed the chance to win the game. On the last play, Westbrook drove to the basket, Davis closed, and Russell decided to pass the ball to an open Abrines. There is no right or wrong on this last play: Westbrook could have tried to score on Davis and maybe get a foul, but with the way Russell is shooting for the line it might not be a great decision. Trusting your teammates on the last possession is something that might become useful during the season to keep them all engaged in close game situations.
The Thunder are not third in the Western Conference behind the Nuggets and the Warriors, 17-9 the record at this point.
The Thunder have been out-rebounded 56-39, but what’s more painful is the fact that New Orleans grabbed seventeen offensive rebounds. These are all second chance possessions that will kill your team in a close game. The Thunder didn’t have the length to keep up with Davis and Randle mostly because Grant was in foul trouble and Patterson isn’t good enough.
- The Free Throw Line
The Thunder ranks 27th in the league in free-throw percentage at 70.8%. What’s more worrying is that three players out of the five, who takes more free throws per game, are shooting below 67% from the line. Russell Westbrook is 60.7% on 5.9 attempts per game, Steven Adams is 55.7% on 4.9 attempts per game, and Jerami Grant is 66.7% on 2.8 attempts per game. To be a contender, and an elite team, the Thunder absolutely need to improve this aspect. Shooting 63% from the line, like the team did last night, it will surely cost you many games, and in a packed Western Conference, this can be lethal.
- Other Options From The Bench
Abrines and mostly Patterson are struggling. Last night wasn’t different from any of the previous games. If Abrines can defend on an average level and still be a threat on offense (defender won’t let him open at least), Patterson is making more damages than anything else. Despite the fact that he looks better body-wise, he surely struggles in doing everything on the court: he can’t score, he can’t defend, he can’t box out. He has been more than an issue so far this season for Oklahoma City. I think Donovan should try to mix things up a little bit with the second unit with TLC, Nader, and even Burton available.
- Russell Westbrook
The former MVP and Thunder leader had another strange game. He finished with twenty points (8-16 FG, 2-7 3PT, 2-5 FT), six rebounds, seven assists, four steals, two blocks, and seven turnovers. Despite shooting the ball well from the floor, Westbrook is still struggling to stay under control on offense and to score from the free-throw line. Also, when he losses the ball on offense, or he thinks he was fouled, he takes the next defensive possession off most of the time. The best example of this is when he thought he got fouled, didn’t get the call, came back on defense, committed a useless foul, and got also a technical foul. He is the leader of the team, he needs to figure out a way to be more consistent on both ends of the floor. Maybe he is still out of condition due to the missed training camp but, hopefully, he will be back at his best soon.
Paul George, Steven Adams, and Dennis Schröder played a good game and contributed in many ways on both ends of the floor. Paul George finished with twenty-five points, eleven rebounds, five assists, two steals, one block, four turnovers, and his defense has been great again. Steven Adams, despite suffering to defend Davis (who doesn’t?), also played a solid game and finished with twenty points, six rebounds, two assists, one steal, one block, and one turnover. Dennis is a force coming out of the bench. He is a starting point guard type of player, and it is a luxury for the Thunder to have him coming in as a second-unit player. His final stats: twenty-four points, three rebounds, four assists, and four turnovers.
The Thunder will play on Friday night in Denver against the Nuggets. Another difficult match-up for Oklahoma City. Tip-off 9 pm CT.
Photos by Layne Murdoch Jr