The Thunder earned a much needed win this afternoon over the New Orleans Pelicans. Even with the win, the Pelicans still win the season series 2-1. However, this win puts the Pelicans back a game in the loss column, which gives Oklahoma City more room to work with in the playoff seeding.

The first quarter opened up in favor of the Pelicans as they scored the first couple of baskets. However, the Thunder responded with an 11-4 run. Back to back three point shots by Melo and Paul George sparked the run, as well as great hands on defense. Shortly after this run things took a turn in the wrong direction for OKC. The defense essentially disappeared, and Melo was forced to the bench because of foul trouble. The Pelicans ended the quarter on a 24-9 run which game them an 8 point advantage after one.

Paul George checked into the second quarter to literally save the day. George hit a shot from beyond the arc as well as a few layups as a result of driving to the basket. He drove to the basket and was clearly fouled on a couple of occasions, yet none of the refs blew the whistle. Carmelo Anthony didn’t like what he saw from the bench and started yelling at the officials, which earned him a technical foul. After this encounter, the officials started giving Paul George the calls. Riding on the momentum of free throws and great defense, the Thunder went on a 22-7 run. OKC led 53-50 at halftime.

The Thunder came out in the third quarter with great ball movement on offense and great rotations on defense that caused problems for the Pelicans offense. New Orleans was forced to call a timeout after OKC extended their lead. The Pelicans came out of the timeout firing on all cylinders, while the Thunder missed a ton of three point shots. Carmelo Anthony was the savior this quarter, as Paul George seemingly couldn’t get anything to go in. George missed ten straight shots before finally getting one to fall. The Thunder led by as much as 10 points in third, although the lead was only 5 heading into the final quarter.

Closing out games has been a struggle for the Thunder all season long. Despite their recent struggles, the way this team closed out this game has to be a huge confidence booster. The team started off the quarter 5-7 from the floor, which is what ultimately gave them the advantage. Oklahoma City led by as many as 12 at one point, but New Orleans continued to fight back. The game went back and forth and came down to the wire. The Thunder ultimately closed this one out in dramatic fashion for a 109-104 victory.

3 Quick Thoughts 

  • Free Throws Must Improve Before Playoffs. 

The Thunder shot 72% from the free throw line tonight which is just above their season average. While that may not sound like a terrible percentage, it ranks 29th in the league. Even if the Thunder shoot at their average during the playoffs, it won’t be enough to win games.

Free throws used to be an automatic thing for Oklahoma City. However, in recent years, specifically this one, it has been a huge issue. I’m not sure if it is because of the new rules in place or not, but whatever it is, other teams have been able to figure it out. The Thunder must find a way to be successful at the free throw line both in these final games and in the playoffs.

  • Too Many 3’s 

The Thunder shot 9/31 from beyond the arc tonight for a total of 29%. There will be nights when 31 attempts is the perfect amount. However, when you’re making less than 30% of the shots taken, that’s not the night to do it. Deep balls in the NBA are a difficult thing to figure out. The bottom line is if you’re not feeling it, look for a higher percentage shot.

  • Gotta Take Better Care Of The Ball. 

The Thunder rank 15th in the NBA in turnovers with 13.4 per game. While this isn’t terrible, you’d like to see a team limit turnovers to 10 or less. The Thunder went way over their average tonight with 18 turnovers. Being this reckless with the ball is what will get you beat by any team, regardless of talent level. Oklahoma City was lucky tonight, but they might not be so lucky having that many turnovers in the playoffs. It’ll be key for this team to take better care of the ball during the post season.

Rivalry Game 

The Thunder will play again on Tuesday night in a rivalry game against the Golden State Warriors. The game will start at 7:00 PM CST. It will be televised on TNT and broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM.

OKC currently leads the season series 2-1. Golden State has been plagued with injuries lately, which means they won’t be at full power against Oklahoma City. A win on Tuesday night would be huge for this team as they could gain some serious momentum before the regular season comes to a close.

Article written by Craig Hofeld. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter and Instagram.