Were this the end of the season, instead of just before the All-Star break, you’d think the schedulers rigged it: the Thunder are two games behind New Orleans, and the next two games are with, yes, New Orleans. Better yet, it’s a home-and-home deal. But the battle here is for ninth place, still out of the playoffs, and jaded Thunder fans noted that hey, Nick Collison signed up for two more years, and is Kevin Durant still out with that toe sprain? (Yes.) Besides, the Pelicans won the last two times these teams met.
And it looked like they’d do it again. The Sea Birds were up six at halftime, 57-51, thanks to a Quincy Pondexter trey at the horn; OKC recovered in the third quarter, to take a 77-76 lead. Said lead passed back and forth for six minutes or so, until a three-minute-long 9-0 OKC run put the Thunder up by seven, 98-91, with 2:25 left, and the defense, previously stiffish, became even stiffer: the Pelicans would not score again. The final was 102-91, setting the stage for one hell of a fourth game at the Peake Friday night.
How stiff, you ask? New Orleans shot 39 percent, 28 percent from Way Out There; Anthony Davis collected 23 points, but it took him 21 shots to get there; Tyreke Evans got 11 points from 20 shots. Perhaps the least-intimidated of the Birds was Ryan Anderson, who scored 19 on a relatively efficient 17 shots, and he still finished -14 for the night.
Meanwhile, Westbrook watchers were treated to Russ at his literal best: 45 points (18-31), tying his season high, with six rebounds, six assists, a steal, and, just for the hell of it, a late-fourth-quarter block. (Blocks for the night: Serge Ibaka 6; other Thunder players 4; New Orleans 3.) Dion Waiters, starting in place of Perry Jones, who ordinarily would start in place of Kevin Durant, scored 12 in his second Thunder start. Ibaka, scoreless in the first half, came to life in the second, finishing with 13; ex-Pelican Anthony Morrow led the bench with 14.
Friday night: The Rematch. After that, the Thunder will hang at home through Sunday, with a matinee against the Clippers, followed by a quick trip to Denver.