2/26/17: Pelicans at Thunder
Although he has made considerable improvement since the beginning of the season, Domantas Sabonis got bullied by Anthony Davis. Gentry opened up with “Horns Away” on back to back possessions to start the game. A great way to get a player open is using them as the screener and tempting his man to help off of who you really want to get the ball to. This play couldn’t have worked better.
Billy Donovan’s staff emphasizes hard-hedging pick-and-rolls which can lead to switching if the screen is set up well. AD got a switch from this ball screen and attacked McDermott off the dribble instead of trying to shoot over him. This is a good example of Davis’ offensive style: even though the catch was in the mid-post, he doesn’t have an overpowering, physical mindset and often times uses his quickness and length to shoot floaters and jump hooks over the defense as a counter move to his mid-range shooting.
Much of the first quarter involved a faster tempo with both teams wanting to run. Once Boogie returned to the game after picking up early fouls, New Orleans halted the pace and gave Cousins his isolated post ups. Demarcus ransacked Adam’s reputation as a strong defensive center, proving how rare and extensive his offensive arsenal is.
If there is one truly positive thing Montiejunas brings to the team off the bench (in addition to his nice touch around the basket) it’s the direction he gives the offense. You can see here how he doesn’t allow this possession to stall, hustling into the dribble-handoff and creating an opportunity for Davis.
Later on in the game we saw a spark of the offensive rebounding potential synthesized by the AD/Boogie combo. Davis was able to easily grab these boards lurking on the opposite block of Cousin’s post-ups.
With the addition of Cousins, these two teams now have nearly identical tempo strategies: they mostly want to play fast and keep the pace up until the starting unit hands over the keys to Kanter and Cousins’ post ups. Then after the clock-killing intermission, they get back to red-lining the throttle. The first quarter gave both teams an opportunity to grab easy transition points, and Jrue had a lot to do with that. His patience as a point guard shined both in setting up AD for fast break seals, as well as taking the shot when he needed to. Watch how he brilliantly he looks off Abrines in order to make the entry pass to Davis.
Davis had a jaw-dropping coast-to-coast that looked a lot like the slalom in the All Star Weekend Skills Challenge.
Boogie picked up two quick fouls (and a technical that later gave him a suspension) when him and Steven Adams were physical with one another. OKC fed Adams a post up early. After a couple fakes he blew by Cousins to the middle and all Cousins could do was wrap him up.
When Cousins sat down after a dubious offensive tangle-up foul, Gentry put in Montiejunas to deal with the Thunder’s size. When Davis had to slide over on to Adams it displayed why having Davis play the 4 instead of the 5 is ideal: he isn’t quite strong enough to bang with a bruiser and playing the 5 sticks him under the rim, in turn limiting his ability to run the floor.
Much like the game against the Rockets, NOLA’s PNR defense was put to the test by a player they had no chance to slow down. Westbrook continuously got around the screen with Jrue trailing him. Once again, NO’s opponent was essentially treated to 5 on 4’s with Jrue out of the play and a Westbrook/Adams combo jetting to the rim. If Pelican wings tagged the roll man, McDermott and Abrines were waiting in the corner to splash a triple. Davis courageously attempted to take a charge on Westbrook twice, but was given a blocking foul both times.
Although it was an uptempo game, there was only 14 total fast break points, with most of the pace coming from semi-transition possessions. The Pels’ approach to Westbrook attacking was to get all the way back inside the arc and crowd the paint. No one tried cutting him off or slowing him down on his trips up the court, and with the exception of committing 9 turnovers, Russ had no issues getting to the rack.
The Pelicans are terrible at matching up in transition. There is all sorts of communication issues, and there isn’t a guard or wing that stands out as a floor general setting everyone straight. Watch Holiday have no idea where Roberson is after trying to match up with Westbrook, until Solomon Hill calls it off too late.
Optimistic fingers can be pointed at the roster turnover, but Hill, Holiday and Moore have all been there since training camp. For a team that has a good turnover rate, they still rank in the bottom half of the league in giving up fast break points.
For the second night in a row, New Orleans found themselves within striking distance of a win. Cousins was able to play about 4 minutes in the fourth before fouling out on a vicious dunk from Russ.
Then, up 6 with 35 seconds to go, Westbrook snaked AD on a PNR and tomahawked home the definitive basket. Although it is consistent to their scheme, there is no reason for Hill to chase Russ around the the ball screen with it taking place so far outside the arc.
Playing their third game in four nights, the Pelicans were expended down the stretch, and the last player you want to deal with on the road, when you have little energy, left is Russell Westbrook. Russ ended with a 41, 11, 11.
The story line of this game was certainly Demarcus Cousins’ foul trouble and the suspension-technical. Cousins only being able to play 21 minutes (He put up a 31 and 10 in those minutes) sent Gentry to his bench for the second straight game. Montiejunas got destroyed in the low-post, who was later replaced by a nice effort from Cunningham. Davis suffered a beating at the 5 matched up with Steven Adams as Davis only tallied 4 defensive rebounds to Adam’s 9 offensive. The final rebounding margin favored the Thunder by a enormous 18 board advantage. Add in 56 Points in the Paint for OKC, and you can see how much of one-sided interior battle took place.
It was still a close game though, and there were many positives built into the unfavorable outcome. Davis went off for another near-40 point game scoring 37 on 54% shooting. He set the New Orleans franchise record for points in a quarter with 24 in the first. He and Boogie bounced back from their 8/17 free throw performance in the Dallas game, not missing one of their 21 combined shots from the stripe. The team also experienced a breakthrough in their 3 point shooting, hitting 38% from deep, and for the first time since the Boogie trade had fewer turnovers than their opponent.
Photo Credit: vxla, flickr
Modified by Tommy Driscoll
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