The New Orleans Pelicans pay attention. Recent events would persuade even the casual viewer that the way to handle the Thunder is to let them run up a big lead early on and then watch them fritter it away, a little at a time, until it’s too late for the boys in blue to do anything about it. The big lead here, halfway through the first quarter, was 25-6. By the end of the first, Oklahoma City led by only 9; they stayed at about that distance for the next 12 minutes, and then totally fell apart. The Pelicans took the lead before the end of the third, and with 18.5 seconds left, the Bad Birds had themselves an unsurmountable lead. Yeah, I know: it was only six points. But in terms of sheer clutch, the Thunder seem to have burned up their pressure plate. And Anthony Davis, always a threat to OKC, was even more so than usual tonight, nailing 36 points and grabbing 15 rebounds as the Pelicans won by, um, seven: 114-107. And it might have been worse had not DeMarcus Cousins elbowed Russell Westbrook in the face midway through the third, earning a Flagrant Two and a free trip to the locker room.
That Davis line is instructive: 18 of 22 free throws, 9-19 from the floor, and only one futile trey attempt. The Pelicans shot 50 percent or better most of the night, finishing at 51. As is Alvin Gentry’s wont, the New Orleans reserves didn’t get much in the way of playing time, though Darius Miller’s 11 off the bench trumped any individual Thunder reserve. (Jerami Grant was the closest, with 10.) So dire was the situation that a Westbrook triple-double (22-16-12) wasn’t enough to save the day.
Were the Thunder thinking forward to the holidays? Not likely. Were they thinking forward to Wednesday and the Warriors? Possibly more likely. I suggest black ops: call up P. J. Dozier from the Sports Drink League. You’ll recognize him at once: he wears number 35.