For the second time in just shy of 48 hours, the Thunder played the New Orleans Pelicans. After defeating them 109-104 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, they countered that with a 107-104 win at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans for their second win on the road this season.
Just like the first game, Steven Adams got off to a dominant start against the Pelicans backcourt of Jaxson Hayes and Jahlil Okafor. Friday, Adams started the first 5 minutes of the first quarter with 10 points on 5-6 shooting. Sunday, Adams started the first quarter 3-3 from the field for six points and added two more buckets in the second quarter. He was 5-6 from the field for 10 points on Friday in the first half and was 5-5 from the field for 10 points on Sunday in the first half.
The third quarter started slowly, which seems inevitable at this point for the Thunder. New Orleans got off to a hot start and ended up taking the lead after a 7-2 start, leading 62-61 with 8:40 remaining in the quarter. During that time, the Thunder went 0-5 from three and looked out of rhythm on the offensive end, as they normally do in the third quarter. What made the Pelicans competitive during this time was the combined 19 points from Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Jrue Holiday. Meanwhile, Steven Adams went the entire period without a bucket and only one shot attempt.
Heading into the fourth quarter, the Thunder led 82-80 with Adams still sitting at 10 points on the night. However, something that has been evident in all three of these Thunder-Pelicans matchups is the obvious mismatch between Adams and the entire Pelicans backcourt. Neither Okafor or Hayes had an answer defensively, and the Thunder recognized that and opted to end the game with Adams, just like on Friday night.
It worked. After sitting on 10 points for half of the game, Adams enforced his will in the paint, drawing two fouls and surprisingly making all four free-throw attempts. He also connected on a hook shot to help put this game away for the Thunder.
OKC’s formula against the Pelicans is to start with Adams, which draws the defense into the paint to pay more attention to him. Typically, part of the second and all of the third quarter involves the Thunder getting to work on the perimeter since their defenders have taken a few steps closer to the basket.
This is a large part of the reason why the third quarters are so slow for OKC. Their gameplan is primarily dependant on them making long-distance shots in this quarter, and they often don’t. Luckily for them, on Sunday they hit timely shots late in the third to stay afloat, then proceeded to close the game with Adams, who ended the night with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Sometimes it feels like the Thunder should keep using Adams until the opposing team stops them repeatedly, but regardless if that’s true or not, OKC’s game plan is clear and it’s led them to a 3-0 record over the Pelicans in the last 30 days.