Pelicans battle short-handed but fall at Thunder, 122-116

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Already without Anthony Davis, the New Orleans Pelicans knew that they were going to face the Oklahoma City Thunder shorthanded.

Then, just hours before gametime, the team announced that Niko Mirotic, Julius Randle, and E’Twaun Moore would be sidelined as well.

With 78.3 points, 33.4 rebounds, 10.6 assists, 3.8 steals and 4.2 blocks sitting on the bench, it was going to take one of the Pelicans’ best efforts of the season to even compete with the Thunder.

New Orleans ended up giving the Thunder everything that they could handle before falling 123-118.

A fourth quarter rally would bring the Pelicans within five points with 1:38 remaining, but they were unable to get over the hump.

“We played hard,” said Head Coach Alvin Gentry. “I thought we competed at a real high level. I thought we got ourselves into a little bit of trouble when we tried to do a little bit too much one-on-one, but when we tried to move the ball and move ourselves a lot of good things happened for us. It seemed like every time we got down we found a way to get back in the game.”

It was the fifth loss in the last seven games for the Pelicans, who are now 22-27.

Jrue Holiday led six players in double figures with 22 points to go along with 13 assists and 8 rebounds. Elfrid Payton secured his second double-double of the season with 14 points and 12 assists.

Darius Miller added 21 points and 7 boards, while Jahlil Okafor had his third straight double figure scoring night with 18 points on 9-12 shooting.

Cheick Diallo (16) and Frank Jackson (12) were also solid off the bench.

Russell Westbrook posted his 15th triple-double of the season with 23 points, 17 rebounds, and 16 assists to lead the Thunder. Paul George had 23 points, 11 boards, and 7 assists, while Steven Adams finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds.

The Pelicans played OKC even during the first quarter, ending the opening stands tied at 28. Jahlil Okafor got things going by attacking the offensive glass for a pair of putbacks. Okafor and Darius Miller each scored six points to lead a balanced effort.

New Orleans continued to battle. So much so that the Pels were able to take a 45-44 lead on a driving layup by Darius Miller with 5:07 remaining in the first half.

But the Thunder would clap back by going on a 15-0 run in under three minutes that would allow the home team to go into the break up 65-53.

It seemed as if the Pelicans were on the verge of being blown out. OKC extended the lead to 22 with a 12-2 run to open the third quarter. They survived the surge just enough to go into fourth quarter trailing by 16 points.

Nerlens Noel opened the final period with a dunk to put the Thunder up 100-82. What followed was a furious comeback.

Frank Jackson and Cheick Diallo alternated baskets to cut the deficit to 10 with 9:55 to play. A minute later Jrue Holiday re-entered the game and the Pelicans went on a quick 5-0 spurt to pull within seven.

A 10-5 run by the Thunder could have been the final nail, but the Pels kept competing, something they’ve struggled to do at other points of the season.

“Even at the end with three minutes to go we were down 16 I think and got it to five at one stage and had a breakaway layup that we just couldn’t get into the basket, said Gentry. “But, I thought we competed as hard as we possibly could and played very unselfishly and put ourselves in a position to win. We just didn’t quite have enough firepower to get over the hump. But I thought Jrue (Holiday) was great. I thought Jahlil (Okafor) and Cheick (Diallo) played really good at the center spot. We did everything we could, we just didn’t quite have enough firepower to get over the hump.”

What they did have fired every last round at its disposal.

Jrue Holiday made back to back three pointers to cap a 14-7 scoring surge that made the score 116-121 with 1:38 to go. After a Westbrook free throw the Pelicans had one more opportunity to cut into the lead, but the possession ended with a missed corner three by Diallo.

On the second game of a back-to-back and down four starters, the Pelicans gave the third-best team in the West a game. They showed that when functioning as a unit the sum can be greater than the parts. Stil, it wasn’t enough to achieve the ultimate goal: victory.

“I feel like we played with a lot of intensity,” said Darius Miller. “They played really well but we just came back and fought. We didn’t do what we needed to accomplish tonight. Hopefully we can the next game.”

The next game is Saturday when they host the San Antonio Spurs.

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David Grubb

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David Grubb has more than a decade of experience in the sports industry. He began his career with KLAX-TV in Alexandria, La. and followed that up with a stint as an reporter and anchor with WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass. After spending a few years away from the industry, David worked as sports information director for Southern University at New Orleans…

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