OKC Thunder: After going small in the middle, Thunder come up big in the end

AP Photo/Garett Fisbeck

Oklahoma City's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) takes a shot against New Orleans' JJ Redick (4) while Josh Hart (3) and Mike Muscala (33) look on during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019.

OKLAHOMA CITY — In a game they scored 115 points, the Thunder scored just 21 in the fourth quarter, repeating some of the failures that had led to four late losses five games into the season.

They did a lot right, too.

About all of it happened after what had been an eight-point edge entering the fourth quarter dwindled to only three with five minutes remaining.

Plays had to be made to secure a 115-104 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans and the Thunder made them at the end.

Oklahoma City had endured 12 of 15 empty fourth-quarter trips down the court when Chris Paul misfired on a 3.

Yet, Nerlens Noel, playing extended minutes again for injured center Steven Adams, forced a jump ball on the rebound. He won the tip and Paul again found himself beyond the 3-point arc.

It was challenged, but he hit it.

Next, Danilo Gallinari hit one just like it. Well guarded, he simply rose up and made it.

Those two shots put the Thunder up seven points.

More plays were made to remain in front.

In just the final 90 seconds, OKC’s tallest and shortest players on the court — Noel and Dennis Schroder — both blocked a shot and combined on three steals. Schroder scored six of his 17 points, too.

“Dennis is a pest, man. I said that when I got here,” Paul said. “Dennis is one of those guys I hate to play against but you love to have on your team.”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 23 points on 8 of 14 shooting, 3 of 5 3-point shooting and 4 of 5 free-throw shooting. He was just one of six players in double figures.

Schroder added 17 points and nine rebounds and was matched in the scoring column by rookie Darius Bazley, who went long, playing 19 minutes off the bench.

Danilo Gallinari added 16 points, hitting 4 of 6 3-pointers. Paul added 15 points and nine assists.

“I think everybody contributed today … and that was good to see,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I think, offensively, we continue to improve and get better.”

The Thunder shot 45.6 percent (41 of 90), 40.5 percent from beyond the 3-point arc (15 of 37) and made 18 of 23 free throws.

New Orleans made 43 percent (40 of 93) from the floor, 34.4 percent (11 of 32) from 3-point land and 13 of 22 free throws.

The way OKC came through at the end was how it maintained its victory. What happened the final 4:40 of the second quarter was how it had something to maintain in the first place.

New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry chose to go small by subbing in forward Nicolo Melli for post Jahlil Okafor 4:49 before the half.

Just 11 seconds after that, Donovan subbed in Mike Muscala for Noel. However, 8 seconds later, he went with Hamidou Diallo for Muscala, meaning Gallinari would occupy the center position.

With Paul, Schroder, Gilgeous-Alexander, Diallo and Gaillinari on the floor, the Thunder outscored the Pelicans 23-12 the remainder of the half.

What had been a 48-42 New Orleans edge became a 65-60 Thunder edge.

Though the game was tied four times in the second half, Oklahoma City (2-4) did not trail again.

“It was the perfect time for it … It really looked good, I really liked it a lot,” Donovan said. “We did some really good things.”

Though he played his three point guards — Paul, Gilgeous-Alexander, Schroder — together considerably after the half, he never returned to the very same fivesome. Nor did he have another Pelican lead to chase.

New Orleans (1-5) put six players in double figures, too, yet none managed more than J.J. Redneck’s 17 off the bench.

Jrue Holiday added 16 points, Okafor 15, Josh Hart and Frank Jackson both finished with 12 and Lonzo Ball added 10.

The Thunder have two days off before playing host to Orlando Tuesday.

“I feel like we get better every game,” Gilgeous-Alexander said.

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