By Chad Waters
After getting blown out by 30-plus to the Pelicans (4-4) at home on New Year’s Eve, the Oklahoma City Thunder (3-4) escaped in a back-and-forth finish in New Orleans. George Hill hit the go-ahead free throws with 12 seconds left, as the Thunder defeated the Pelicans 111-110 on Wednesday night.
New Orleans had the game’s final possession, with both of its leading scorers, Zion Williamson (29 points) and Brandon Ingram (24 points), touching the ball. However, it was second-year guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker who took the last shot from 3-point range. The shot rimmed out with a couple of seconds remaining as neither team could secure the rebound before the final buzzer sounded.
The Thunder were down five points at halftime before scoring 34 points in the third quarter compared to the 19 points from the Pelicans. OKC’s impressive third quarter was led by Darius Bazley, who scored four-straight baskets in the quarter’s opening two minutes. OKC went on an 11-0 run to start the third quarter, all scoring courtesy of Bazley. The second-year forward finished with 15 of his season-high 20 points in the third quarter.
Bazley scored his final points of the quarter with 8 minutes left, which is right around the time Shai Gilgeous-Alexander took over right where Bazley left off. SGA scored all 10 of his third-quarter points after the six-minute mark. Bazley and SGA outscored the Pelicans 25-19 in the third quarter, as OKC wiped away its halftime deficit with a 10-point lead heading into the fourth. SGA finished with a team-high 21 points, nine assists, five rebounds, and five steals while Bazley added 12 rebounds to give him his third double-double this season.
But once Bazley and SGA went to the bench, the Pelicans opened the fourth quarter with a 9-0 run against the Thunder’s second unit. However, OKC’s bench responded, led by Mike Muscala, who ended the Pelican’s run by knocking down three-straight three pointers to push OKC’s lead back to 10. In 21 minutes off the bench, Muscala finished with a season-high 18 points, making six of his nine 3-point attempts.
The OKC run forced a timeout from Pelican’s coach Stan Van Gundy, who immediately put his starters back on the floor. The Pelicans stormed back with another run, this time outscoring the Thunder 12-0 to give New Orleans a 99-97 lead. After the Pelicans regained the lead for the first time since the start of the third quarter, both teams went back and forth in the last four minutes with five lead changes and 25 points combined.
In the final minute, SGA baited Lonzo Ball into a foul behind the 3-point arc with SGA making all three free throws to put OKC up 109-108. Williamson’s turnaround shot off the glass briefly put New Orleans up one more time before Al Horford beat the Pelicans to a rebound that made its way into Hill’s hands, who was fouled by Ball to set up what would end up being the game-winning free throws for the Thunder.
The win puts OKC at 2-1 on its current six-game road trip. Next up, the Thunder visit the New York Knicks (5-3) on Friday night before closing out their 13-day road trip against the Brooklyn Nets (4-4) on Sunday.