“Decimated” doesn’t even begin to describe the parlous state of the New Orleans Pelicans’ health: they started the night with four players sidelined and ended it with six. Worse, one of the casualties was Tyreke Evans, one of their more proficient providers of points, lost in the middle of the third quarter; down by 19 already, the remaining Birds put up a decent effort the rest of the way, but they were sent home with a 116-94 loss. You may have noticed that there has been no mention of their opponent so far in this paragraph, and that’s because the Thunder really didn’t do anything remarkable: they just played their usual game and made sure it was enough.
Okay, maybe there are a couple of remarks to make. We must note the remarkable line by Serge Ibaka, who had 16 points on 6-8 shooting, 10 rebounds, and eight blocks. This is not record-setting material exactly — Elmore Smith rejected 17 Trail Blazers shots in one game for the Lakers in ’73 — but still, that’s a lot of swats. The more worrisome statistic is Kevin Durant’s: yes, he had a game-high 27 points, but he also collected his 15th technical foul of the season. The 16th earns a one-game suspension. Admittedly, there are only three games left in the season, and the clock restarts for the playoffs, but the new, mouthier KD may be in trouble. For Westbrook watchers: Russell played 28 minutes, scored 24 points. Off the bench, Reggie Jackson popped up 11.
Darius Miller and Austin Rivers both contributed 18 points for New Orleans, Rivers playing 40 minutes for the shorthanded (shortwinged?) Pelicans. Evans had picked up 13 before his injury; reserves Alexis Ajinça and James Southerland picked up 12 and 10 respectively. The Pelicans did make some three-pointers (9 of 18, versus 5-13 for OKC), and turned the ball over only twelve times, but Thunder defense picked off most of the rebounds (47-39) and there were those four blocks other than Ibaka’s.
Two road games follow: Sunday afternoon at Indiana, Monday evening at, yes, New Orleans; the season finale will be at the ‘Peake on Wednesday against the Pistons. The Thunder will have to sweep all three to beat last year’s 60-22 record.