If your starters are just barely keeping ahead of things, what do you do? Tonight, Billy Donovan tried “Turn loose the reserves,” and the Thunder bench came up big, opening the fourth quarter with an 18-5 run and seemingly leaving the Pelicans in the dust. If so, it was kind of wet dust; New Orleans still had weaponry, including reliable Anthony Davis, and OKC’s double-digit lead began to evaporate. Still, with 3:30 left, the Thunder were up 110-101, and Donovan deployed three starters plus Enas Kanter and Alex Abrines, both of whom had scored in double figures; Russell Westbrook contributed his usual fourth-quarter magic, and the Pelicans were put away, 121-110.
The Birds of Prey were clicking pretty well. New Orleans shot 48 percent, won the assists battle 25-22, and three Pelicans scored twenty-plus: Davis, of course, with 34 (and 15 rebounds), Jrue Holiday with 23 (and 10 assists), and Terrence Jones, who led the bench with 21. The Thunder were making just enough more noise to drown them, with Westbrook coming up with 42-10-7, Abrines with a career-high 18 (6-12, including 5-11 on the long ball), and Kanter with 14 points and 14 boards. But here’s your Telltale Statistic: the plus/minus winner for the night was Joffrey Lauvergne, with 10 points, 6 rebounds, and a +20. In fact, all five OKC reserves were on the plus side of the ledger, while Westbrook, despite his wizardry, was -4.
There are only two home games in the next two weeks: Christmas Day against the Timberwolves, and New Year’s Eve against the Clippers. Everything else is on the road: Boston, Miami, Memphis, Milwaukee, Charlotte, Houston. (The Nuggets come to Oklahoma City on the 7th of January.) Things could, and probably will, get hairy.