Thunder Storms Past Pelicans
OKLAHOMA CITY - It's no mystery the Oklahoma City Thunder likes to get out and run in transition, but game planning for it means little when you're ill equipped to stop it.
That was the plight of the Pelicans on Friday night at The Peake, where Oklahoma City ran roughshod over New Orleans 116-94 in a game that wasn't even that close.
After weeks of subpar defense, the Thunder came out with a renewed ferocity and that aggression was evident in a few key statistical categories: Oklahoma City held an 18-point edge in points in the paint, outrebounded the Pelicans by 12, had a 12-4 lead in blocked shots and outshot N.O. by 13 percent.
Oh, and about that transition offense? Oklahoma City torched the Pelicans 28-0 in fastbreak points and did so without recording any after the starters left at the end of the third quarter.
Sometimes numbers can be misleading. This was not one of those times and the stalwart defensive performance was spearheaded by a standout effort from Serge Ibaka.
Ibaka, who sat the entirety of the fourth quarter but still managed to turn in this monster of a stat line: 16 points, 10 rebounds and a season-high eight blocks in 29 minutes. And that doesn't include the shots and possessions that his presence altered, as he clearly befuddled a New Orleans lineup sans its best two players in Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon.
Those eight rejections set the tone for easily the most complete defensive outing for the Thunder in recent weeks and a full-strength Thunder lineup looked to be back in sync as the playoffs draw near.
OKC led 60-47 at halftime but it was the decisive third quarter that put the bow on victory No. 58 of the season. The Thunder outscored the Pelicans 27-15 in the period to stretch the margin out to 25 points, ending the night early for the starters to receiver some well-deserved rest.
Kevin Durant led Oklahoma City with 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting to go with six rebounds and five assists in 20 minutes. KD picked up technical foul No. 15 late in the third quarter after expressing his displease at a perceived no-call. Durant is now one technical away from being forced to serve a one-game suspension.
Russell Westbrook turned in a similar line to his fellow All-Star with 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting with seven assists and five rebounds in 28 minutes.
Reggie Jackson led the way off the bench with 11 points in a well-rounded effort from the Thunder's secondary unit. The Thunder bench combined for 45 points and just five turnovers with seven of the eight reserves who played scoring.
Austin Rivers and Darius Miller led the Pelicans (32-47) with 18 points each. New Orleans shot 60 percent in the first quarter before the Oklahoma City defense went into lockdown, holding it to just 40.7 percent for the game. Tyreke Evans scored 13 points but left with a bone bruise in his right knee and did not return.
With the victory, the Thunder improved to 58-21 with three games left on the regular-season schedule and another matchup against the Pelicans on the way on Monday.
Next up is a matchup against the Indiana Pacers on Sunday at noon in Indianapolis. The Pacers are a half-game back of the Heat for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Speaking of the Eastern Conference, with Friday's win the Thunder clinched home court in any potential NBA Finals scenario because it is guaranteed to finish with a better record than the Heat or the Pacers.
The Thunder is no longer in the running for the No. 1 seed in the West, as San Antonio clinched it with a win on Friday night. The Thunder needs to win just one of its final three to clinch the No. 2 spot.
OKC needs to win two of its final three to reach the 60-win mark for the second-consecutive season. Should the Thunder win out, OKC would continue its impressive streak of improving upon its win total in every season since relocating from Seattle.