Despite a game-high 44 points and nine assists from Russell Westbrook, the New Orleans Pelicans downed the Oklahoma City Thunder 123-119 on Thursday night at the Smoothie King Center behind Anthony Davis' team-high 30 points.
With five players inactive, the Pelicans (23-34) got 26 points from stretch forward Ryan Anderson and a 21-point, eight-assist night from starting point guard Norris Cole.
Oklahoma City (41-17) lost for the third time in four games despite shooting 54.7 percent from the floor. Kevin Durant scored 32 points to go with 14 rebounds and seven assists, while Serge Ibaka added 15 points.
Though their two MVPs played well, the Thunder are a .500 team when Westbrook and Durant have huge scoring nights, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Kevin Durant & Russell Westbrook combine for 76 pts in loss. OKC: Have lost 9 of 18 games where both scored 25+ pts pic.twitter.com/iX4GtpER2C— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 26, 2016
The Pelicans reacted after the win, their fifth in seven games:
Four days removed from his 59-point, 20-rebound performance against the Detroit Pistons—and two nights after scoring only nine points against the Washington Wizards—Davis got off to a sizzling start, scoring 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting in the first quarter. The star big man also made two threes, which helped the Pelicans take an 18-14 lead midway through the first, via NBA on TNT:
Davis, however, cooled off in the second quarter, taking and missing three shots. Anderson chipped in with 14 second-quarter points on 6-of-12 shooting. With rookie Bryce Dejean-Jones (wrist) and shooting guard Eric Gordon (finger) out for Thursday's game—as well as Tyreke Evans (knee) and Quincy Pondexter (knee), per Justin Verrier of ESPN.com—Cole provided 14 points and six assists in the first half.
Oklahoma City was playing the second night of a road back-to-back, but fatigue did not seem like it was an issue for Westbrook. The two-time All-Star Game MVP scored 25 points in the first half and went to the free-throw line 10 times.
His last basket of the first half came with an added degree of difficulty:
Davis' touches increase again in the third quarter, as he took seven shots and made four of them. Westbrook, meanwhile, continued to attack the Pelicans' point guard duo of Cole and Jrue Holiday with seven third-quarter points. But the Pelicans could not miss, and they finished 12-of-20 on three-point attempts while shooting 52.2 percent from the floor.
The Pelicans defense keyed on Durant, whose second made field goal of the second half didn't come until nine minutes, 37 seconds remained in the fourth quarter. The 2013-14 regular-season MVP finished with a minus-six rating, per John Reid of the Times-Picayune:
Kevin Durant missed five of six shots in third quarter.— John Reid (@JohnReid64) February 26, 2016
But the Thunder came back late, thanks to their superstar point guard. After New Orleans pushed its lead to 117-105 on an Anderson three with 3:23 remaining, Westbrook responded with nine straight points, and a layup by Durant cut the advantage to 119-116 with 1:15 to go. Just before that run, Davis had come down awkwardly and grabbed his left knee after blocking a layup attempt by Westbrook with 3:28 remaining but stayed in the game.
Matt Moore of CBS Sports reacted to Westbrook's run:
RUSS WILL NOT GO QUIETLY INTO THE NIGHT.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) February 26, 2016
But the UCLA product missed a layup after Davis hit two free throws, and the Thunder couldn't collect a defensive rebound at the other end with 40 seconds remaining.
New Orleans' Big Three of Davis, Anderson and Cole combined for 77 points and carried the short-handed Pelicans to one of their biggest wins of the year. New Orleans, 16-12 at home, also got efficient nights from Holiday (22 points, nine assists) and Toney Douglas (12 points, four rebounds) off the bench.
The Pelicans moved to 5.5 games behind the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Though it has five players out with injuries with 25 games to go, New Orleans has a chance to earn the No. 8 seed in the West as long as Davis is healthy.
Oklahoma City hasn't lost its grip on the third seed in the West, but there has been some cause for concern on defense since the All-Star break. Playing on the road on the second night of a back-to-back could have been a factor Thursday, but the Thunder have given up 110.5 points per game in their last four.
Oklahoma City needs to improve its defense if it wants to retain its status as legitimate championship contenders.
When asked about his knee, Davis said it was "fine," per Brett Dawson of the New Orleans Advocate.
"I just landed funny," Davis said, per Dawson. "I tried to watch out for Russell at the same time. It was just all bad."
Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry had a bad feeling when he saw what happened, per Dawson:
Alvin Gentry’s thought when Anthony Davis sat up and grabbed his knee: “What else could go wrong?”— Brett Dawson (@BDawsonWrites) February 26, 2016
Anderson—whose 26 points off the bench were more than the 20 points the entirety of the Thunder bench accounted for—said he knew Oklahoma City's stars would score at will but that it was a team effort that decided this game.
"Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are going to get theirs," Anderson said, per Jim Eichenhofer of Pelicans.com, "but two guys can't win a game for a team."
Durant said the Thunder struggled defensively because they weren't helping when needed.
"They did whatever they wanted, and we didn't show any resistance," Durant said, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "They got confidence. ... We didn't help (defensively) as much as we should have, and that caused us to be in scramble mode."
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