The Oklahoma City Thunder won their second game against the New Orleans Pelicans this season by securing a 109-104 victory on Friday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Oklahoma City led by as many as 16 points in the second quarter, but New Orleans stormed back and took a 92-84 fourth-quarter advantage after back-to-back three-pointers from Josh Hart and E'Twaun Moore.
The Thunder took over in the final 9:53, however, outscoring the Pels 25-12 from that point.
Chris Paul hit the biggest shot, a seven-footer to give the Thunder a 105-104 edge with 1:24 left. Two Steven Adams buckets—including a powerful dunk to close the scoring—sealed the win.
The 7-11 Thunder improved to 6-4 at home. The 6-13 Pels lost their fourth straight game.
Pelicans F Brandon Ingram: 26 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists
Pelicans G Jrue Holiday: 14 points, 6 assists, 2 rebounds
Pelicans G JJ Redick: 16 points
Thunder G Dennis Schroder: 25 points, 7 assists, 2 rebounds
Thunder F Danilo Gallinari: 17 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists
Thunder C Steven Adams: 14 points, 12 rebounds
Schroder Drops Buckets Off Bench
The Thunder starting backcourt of Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander combined to score just 17 points on 7-of-22 shooting.
They each made big plays in the fourth—Paul hit the game-winner, and Gilgeous-Alexander had a pair of assists to help the Thunder dig out of an eight-point hole—but OKC wouldn't have won without Schroder's offense.
Schroder is never afraid to shoot, and he let it fly Friday by going 11-of-24 for his 25 points. The Thunder simply had no defensive answer for him, as the ex-Atlanta Hawk dished a team-leading seven assists too.
This is how Erik Horne of The Athletic described one of Schroder's plays:
Schroder also switched roles with center Steven Adams, finishing in the lane after the big man fed him the ball on a sharp cut:
The guard scored 12 points in the fourth quarter, including a clutch long-range jumper to give the Thunder a 103-102 lead with 3:50 left.
He and the rest of the reserves dropped 58 points, with Abdel Nader contributing 19. After the game, Schroder called the victory a "great team win."
And that's how the Thunder need to play to make the playoffs. On nights when Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander don't have it, players such as Schroder and Nader need to contribute more. That happened Friday against a fast-paced Pelicans team that can score in bunches.
Oklahoma City may not have the star power of previous years when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook ran the show, but if it puts up more efforts like Friday's—where everyone from the best starter to the last man off the bench contributes—then a top-eight spot in the Western Conference is doable.
Pelicans Defense Dooms Comeback Effort
The Pelicans' identity is easy to spot: They love to run, they're fun to watch, they have exciting young talent...and they play poor team defense.
The latter fact has the Pels at 6-13. Yes, New Orleans has been snake-bitten by injuries, with superstar rookie Zion Williamson recovering from a torn meniscus and Lonzo Ball missing time for injuries and illness (including Friday for the latter reason).
New Orleans' defense leaves a lot to be desired, though, and that fact was evident Friday.
The Thunder shot 47.8 percent from the field and dished 27 assists with just 11 turnovers.
The first quarter was arguably the biggest culprit, with the Thunder feeding Adams early and often in the post, perhaps sniffing out a mismatch against rookie big man Jaxson Hayes.
Adams took advantage, scoring five early buckets and finishing the night with 14 points alongside 12 boards.
Hayes looks like he'll be a good player for years, and the Thunder's post dominance wasn't all his fault.
However, the Pels entered Friday in the bottom five of the NBA in defensive efficiency, per ESPN.com, and the only answer would seem to be the healthy returns of Ball and Williamson. Jrue Holiday is an excellent on-ball defender, but he's not enough for the Pels to survive on that end.
Until those returns, the Pels' best hope is outrunning and outscoring opponents and hoping the gap between them and the Western Conference's No. 8 seed doesn't get too vast.
The teams will complete a home-and-home set Sunday at 5 p.m. ET in New Orleans' Smoothie King Center.