Didn’t we just dispose of this team a couple of days ago? But this was different: the Pelicans were at home, the Thunder were worn out yesterday by the Indiana Pacers, Russell Westbrook was resting, and Tyreke Evans, despite a bone bruise, was playing through it all. And from the How Is This Even Possible department: Nick Collison got broomed. Four minutes into the second quarter, he and Austin Rivers got into it; Rivers, by all appearances, was the major aggressor, but presumably in an effort to appear “fair,” the officials tossed them both. No matter. This was Tyreke’s night: whatever pain he might have been in, he ignored, while putting up a career-high 41 points. It was 75-75 with eight minutes left; New Orleans won it going away, 101-89, with Evans playing the entire second half.
But let’s face it: the Pelicans didn’t look all that depleted, even down to nine players after Rivers’ unexpected departure. And if Luke Babbitt was the only other Bird to score more than ten, well, New Orleans did shoot 44 percent, four percent better than the Thunder, and OKC was in one of its Desperation Trey modes. (Nine of 32? Sheesh. The Pelicans weren’t that much better, at 9-29, but still.) Serge Ibaka had some vim and/or vigor, producing 22 points while gathering 16 rebounds, and Caron Butler did serious sixth-man work with 19, but take those two out of the equation and you’re left with a team that went 18-55 from the floor. Reggie Jackson mustered only four points; Kevin Durant managed 25, but it took him 23 shots to do it.
So happy times in the Big Easy, which hasn’t seen a lot of them of late. Not only did the Thunder fail to clinch the #2 seed in the West, they also assured themselves of a poorer record than last year: assuming they beat Detroit Wednesday, they finish 59-23. (They won 60 games last season.) And if tonight is any indication, the Pistons might actually pull off the upset.