The Oklahoma City Thunder head into the All-Star break with 40 wins after beating the New Orleans Pelicans 121-95 at home Thursday night.
Russell Westbrook finished a rebound short of getting his ninth triple-double. The Thunder point guard scored 23 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished out 10 assists.
More importantly, through the course of the night, Westbrook also made history, per Bleacher Report:
Kevin Durant also chipped in 23 points and six assists.
Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday were two of the bright spots for New Orleans. They each scored 23 points apiece but had little support from the rest of the roster. Ryan Anderson particularly struggled, finishing 2-of-12 from the field for four points.
Scott Kushner of the Advocate believes Anderson's poor performance really doomed the Pelicans on Thursday:
There are nights when Anderson truly carries the #Pelicans offensively, but when he's off, he's an almost total liability at both ends.— Scott Kushner (@ScottDKushner) February 12, 2016
While this was just another regular-season game, the Thunder had added motivation to win for assistant coach Monty Williams, whose wife, Ingrid, died Wednesday in a car accident, per ESPN.com. The emotion evident in Durant's pregame interview illustrated how much Williams means to OKC's players:
Of course, the Pelicans players were likely playing with heavy hearts as well after Williams spent the previous five seasons as New Orleans' head coach. Ingrid Williams had a major impact on Davis, which he revealed Wednesday night:
Completely devastated. Ingrid Williams was like a 2nd mother to me when I got to NOLA. My thoughts & prayers are with Monty & the family— Anthony Davis (@AntDavis23) February 11, 2016
In addition to a moment of silence for Ingrid Williams before the game, the Thunder had a special way to acknowledge Monty Williams' absence on the bench, per Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman:
Thunder coaching staff left Monty Williams' typical spot during national anthem unoccupied pic.twitter.com/6S1yJCmemX— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 12, 2016
Once the game started, Oklahoma City wasted little time going to work against the Pelicans inside. According to NBA.com, New Orleans is allowing opponents to shoot 60.5 percent in the restricted area and 42.7 percent between five and nine feet from the basket.
Defending the paint has been a weakness for the Pelicans this year, and the Thunder exploited it, scoring 34 points inside in the first half, missing only six of their 23 field-goal attempts, per ESPN Stats & Info. They also out-rebounded New Orleans 23-12 through the first two quarters.
The Pelicans had no answer for Durant and Westbrook, who combined for 35 of the Thunder's 62 first-half points. This Durant dunk in the opening frame highlighted New Orleans' defensive issues:
In the second quarter, Westbrook had a highlight-reel dunk of his own, courtesy of the Thunder:
While the team remained hot on the offensive end, Oklahoma City couldn't open up any breathing room until a 16-3 run in the second quarter, which gave the home side a 45-32 lead with 6:58 left in the half.
New Orleans trimmed the gap to as little as eight points in the third quarter, 69-61, but the Thunder offense exploded and their lead swelled to 21 points, 95-74, heading into the fourth. SB Nation's the Bird Writes knew that ended any chance the Pelicans had of winning the game:
Pelicans down 21 going into the 4th ... pic.twitter.com/vgjr2UfmLB— The Bird Writes (@thebirdwrites) February 12, 2016
During OKC's third-quarter outburst, Westbrook found Serge Ibaka with a no-look pass inside to earn the best assist of the night:
This is a landmark win for the Thunder when adding their strong record this year to those of the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs. According to Elias Sports (via ESPN Stats & Info), this is the first year three teams from one conference have at least 40 wins going into the All-Star break.
Oklahoma City will hope to close some ground between itself and Golden State and San Antonio in the second half of the season. Of course, nobody is discounting the Thunder as a title contender, but the Warriors and Spurs are playing at an almost historically unprecedented level.
OKC plays the Warriors again Feb. 27, which will be a good barometer to see if anything has changed between the two teams since Golden State's 116-108 win back on Feb. 6.
The outlook is a little less rosy for the Pelicans, who have little chance of making the playoffs at this point. In addition, the team announced before Thursday's game Tyreke Evans will miss the remainder of the season, further adding to its woes this year.
Perhaps New Orleans can regroup following the All-Star break. Games against the Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards give the Pelicans an opportunity to build some momentum to start the second half.
"In the second half, they got into us and we didn't execute," said Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry after the game, per Jim Eichenhofer of Pelicans.com. "They weren't turnovers, but some of the shots we took were like turnovers. This team, when they get on a roll, they're really hard to guard."
While New Orleans has an uphill battle to climb back into the top eight in the Western Conference, Davis isn't throwing in the towel whatsoever this year.
"Whether you make the playoffs or not, you want to establish a culture for the upcoming years," he said, per Eichenhofer. "We've got to continue to keep building and keep getting better."
Thunder guard Anthony Morrow is similarly wary about complacency in the second half of the year.
"It's huge but we know we gotta keep moving," he said, per the Thunder's Twitter account, after OKC picked up win No. 40.