The Thunder stuck to its game plan against a physical Pelicans team. However, a series of costly runs tilted the scales heavily in New Orleans’ favor midway through the game. OKC continued to fight down the stretch, but it wouldn’t be enough to overcome the early deficit.
Physicality was the name of the game for the Thunder in its third and final matchup with the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday. With size at nearly every position, the Thunder looked to break down the Pels’ defense by attacking the lane and playing on the drive and kick. To start the game, it was Darius Bazley setting the offensive tone for the Thunder with 10 first-quarter points from his relentless and fearless pursuit of the basket on nearly every possession.
As the Thunder’s offense slowed, New Orleans took advantage on the other end to the tune of a 20-5 run going into the second frame.
OKC responded with a surge of its own in the second quarter sparked by a pair of 3-pointers from Isaiah Roby who finished with his second-consecutive double-digit performance off the bench with 13 points. The Thunder also received contributions from its newest signee Gabriel Deck who made his Thunder debut against the Pelicans.
In his very first NBA game, the 6-foot-6 Argentinian drew the matchup with the imposing Zion Williamson on both ends of the floor. Deck held his ground on the Pelicans’ forward defensively and on the other end, attacked Williamson head on for a layup that helped spur the Thunder’s second-quarter run and even dazzled spectators with a sneaky behind the back pass to Roby for a layup in transition.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) April 30, 2021
“That was awesome,” said Roby. “I can just tell from just the few minutes we played together. He’s got a great feel for the game and that behind-the-back pass; that was really sweet.”
“He certainly is not a rookie. He’s played a lot of high level basketball and that’s for sure. There is a learning curve to the NBA,” said Daigneault. “I don’t want to understate this, he’s a guy that I think has always dreamed about playing in the NBA. I think that’s why he wanted to come here and it’s something that we don’t take lightly when a player is literally realizing a lifelong dream when they put the uniform on.”
Despite the surge by the Thunder in the second quarter, the Pelicans strung together another massive run, this time outpacing OKC 23-5 to take commanding control of the game. It was Williamson who led all scorers with 27 points and fueled New Orleans’ offense. The Thunder held the Pelicans’ forward just four points in the first and one point in the third, but his contributions in the second quarter proved to be definitive as the Thunder struggled to respond offensively.
“I thought there were a couple stretches in the game where we just couldn’t seem to string together enough plays offensively or defensively,” said Daigneault. “But I thought for the majority of the game we got the game plan and against them and made them play in a crowd and made it difficult for them to get easy stuff.”
With the game seemingly out of reach, the Thunder looked to reinforce its identity of sprinting through the finish line of each game. OKC put this mentality on display in the fourth quarter behind the outburst of Lu Dort who posted 11 points in the fourth frame alone. The second-year guard went 3-of-4 from behind the 3-point line to help spark a 12-4 Thunder run to close the game. By the end of the night, Dort scored a team-high 17 points.
“They had their best guys on him for much of the night. So obviously he got some of those shots to go late but I was impressed with kind of how he played his floor game throughout the course of the game,” said Daigneault. “He let the game come to him. He wasn’t wrapped up in scoring and he played a pretty good game. Then obviously down the stretch there, a couple plays could have made it a little (more dicey) than we did but he kept us kind of in it with the shot-making.”
Whether it’s grabbing a rebound and pushing the ball coast to coast or stretching the floor to knock down a three, Isaiah Roby’s versatility was on display for much of the game in Thursday’s matchup. With a nimble frame at 6-foot-8, the second year forward rolls quickly out of ball screens. It was the start of the fourth quarter that this tactic resulted in a highlight play for Roby and Ty Jerome.
After rolling out of the screen, Jerome shuffled a swift pass to a cutting Roby who was wide open for a one-handed slam. Roby took on contact at the rim which resulted in a monstrous and-one.
“Me and Ty had actually talked earlier in the game,” explained Roby. “There was one pick and roll we had where he found me in the pocket, and I kicked to Svi [Mykhailiuk] in the corner and he knocked down the 3. Then the next time the low man for their defense, the corner man, didn’t pull in so I had the rim right there. So that was a good play by Ty finding me there in the pocket.”
The Thunder’s big man Moses Brown had his hand in what seemed to be every loose ball around the rim. His activity at the end of the night translated into a game-high 18 rebounds. The performance marks the fifth game this season that Brown has recorded 15 or more boards which put him in exclusive company as one of only five Thunder players in OKC history to accomplish such a feat.
Against the large, physical presence of New Orleans, Brown explained what it took to match their physicality as a group: “Definitely a willingness to compete, a willingness to just want to get bumped around and feel bodies on us, a willingness to want to rebound and just play hard.”
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) April 30, 2021
“Something that we want to put in this team is a play through 48 minutes. It’s a 48-minute game so no matter what the score is, we’ve still got to compete at the highest level possible that we can. I feel like that’s what we did – we stepped up, scored a couple buckets and we tried to claim the comeback.”
“We made them pass to the perimeter, which was the plan. There was just stretches where we went a little dry on offense, they got out on the break and that kind of ignited them. But I thought both ends of the floor, we did a lot of good things tonight. The stretches of runs for them kind of opened the game up.”
The Thunder will have day of practice before an action-packed weekend of basketball. After just 10 days, OKC will host the Pacers in a rematch on Saturday before closing out the weekend with a Sunday evening matchup against Phoenix.