Pelicans can’t slow down surging Thunder

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook and New Orleans Pelicans center Anthony Davis have a lot in common. Besides being among the best athletes to ever play their respective positions, both have shouldered the weight of their teams by themselves this season.
So it was no surprise that when the top two scorers in the NBA faced off Sunday, each would put up amazing numbers and make improbable highlight-reel plays.
But the key was going to be which of the superstars would get the most help from their supporting cast. On this night, it was Westbrook who received the most support as the Thunder held on to a 101-92 victory over the Pelicans at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“I’ve been incorporating my teammates since I’ve been in the league,” Westbrook said. “I want to make sure that’s known. Now it’s just finding guys and making it easy for them. Finding better ways. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned different tricks and have passed them on to my teammates.”
Despite the help, it didn’t to overshadow the individual brilliance of Westbrook, who collected his 10th triple-double of the season. His 28 points, 17 rebounds, 12 assists and 10 turnovers extended his triple-double streak to five consecutive games. That’s the longest of his career and the longest in the NBA since Michael Jordan posted seven straight in 1989 with the Chicago Bulls.
“It’s just a blessing,” Westbrook said. “I’m very, very blessed to be able to play the game I love. Like I’ve said before, I never take it for granted. Every time I step on the floor, I’m blessed beyond belief.”
Thunder center Enes Kanter posted 17 points and 12 boards. Victor Oladipo added 15 points as Oklahoma City improved to 13-8.
“Everybody helped out,” Kanter said. “It was team defense and we did a pretty good job.”
The Pelicans were led by Anthony Davis, who had 37 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots. Rookie Buddy Hield broke out of a slump and scored 16 points as he made his first return trip back to the state where he played college basketball. Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore each scored 10 points as New Orleans fell to 7-14.
“I thought we had our opportunities,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “I thought we had our chances. We just didn’t take advantage of it. I thought we did about as good of a job on Russell in the first half as you can do. That being said, the guy still ends up with 17 rebounds, 11 assists, 27 points or whatever it is.”
After being down by as much as 15 points, the Pelicans cut the lead to seven with three minutes left. Davis had a chance to get the lead down to five, but he missed back-to-back shots on the same possession.
Westbrook made New Orleans pay with a fast-break finger roll to push advantage back to 93-85 with 2:39 on the clock.
Oladipo made 1 of 2 free throws before Hield drained back to back 3-pointers. The Pelicans were only down 94-90.
“It felt better making shots,” Hield said of his second-half performance. “It’s been a long time since I had a feel like that. It felt great just seeing the ball go through the net with me struggling for a couple of games. I felt more confident and I felt like it will help me in the long run.”
Westbrook stopped the run when he went to the charity stripe and hit a pair of free throws. But Davis scored on the other end to put back deficit to four.
Davis came up with a block shot on Kanter and it gave New Orleans a chance to get within one basket. But Hield missed a tough layup in traffic.
That led to Westbrook draining a 3-pointer to put the game away.
“I don’t think I have any words to describe him,” Kanter said of Westbrook. “English is my second language.”
The Thunder hit only hit 6 of 28 from 3-point range, but won the rebounding battle 59-51.
Thunder center Steven Adams had his hands full guarding Davis to start the night. Even though Davis is listed as a power forward, the Thunder put Adams on him instead of rookie Domantas Sabonis, who lacks the size, mobility and experience to guard Davis.
With Adams injuring his ankle in the first quarter and unable to return to the game, Kanter came off the bench and had a strong first half to make up for the loss.
Davis played almost 23 minutes in the first half, so coach Alvin Gentry gave him a long rest in the third. This allowed the Thunder to pull out to a 12-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
“We just missed a lot of easy shots,” Davis said. “I think they got 62 points in the paint. For us, offensively, we just missed a lot of easy shots. A lot of wide-open shots, layups. Definitely just one of those games. They made some big shots at the end.”

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