OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — At the 4:25 mark of the third quarter, the Oklahoma City Thunder (5-4) received quite the scare. Russell Westbrook contested a rebound over New Orleans Pelicans (4-6) forward Anthony Davis and came down bad on his left ankle.
From there, the Thunder were forced to relive life without Westbrook. Oklahoma City held a seven-point lead that they saw dwindle to a two-point lead at 84-82. The energy of the arena seemed to be focused on the hopeful vision of Westbrook returning from the tunnel — a vision that never came.
That is when the Thunder bench really took control. At the 2:30 mark of the third quarter, Patrick Patterson drained a three to bring the energy back to the game. From there, the bench led a 13-4 run to finish the quarter.
“I thought our defense in the second half was great,” Billy Donovan said at his postgame press conference. “We turned them over a lot and it led to some easy transition buckets.”
The Oklahoma City bench outscored 20-14 in the second half after being blitzed by the Pelicans bench 35-26 in the first. Ultimately from the late third quarter run Dennis Schröder took over to keep the Pelicans at bay, helping the Thunder win 122-116. The Thunder’s fifth straight victory after starting 0-4.
“It was all from defense,” Donovan said. “I thought that second unit did a terrific job of scoring, moving the ball and defending.”
Schröder’s play was sensational after Westbrook went down. He gave the Thunder hope in an uncertain short term future without Westbrook who’s postgame x-rays came back negative.
“I thought Dennis the way he played, in the absence in Russell,” Donovan said. “It was a real contributing factor in the game.”
The backup point guard had no problem getting into the paint all evening but especially late in the third. Oklahoma City outscored the Pelicans 64-54 in the paint while Adams (18 points and eight rebounds) held Davis below his averages all evening.
“I just had to be with him every second,” Adams said in the locker room. “To be honest he missed a lot of easy buckets, but I just had to keep coming and make it difficult for him.”
Davis had 20 points on 7-of-20 shooting.
Moving forward for the Thunder, all eyes are now set on the left ankle of Westbrook.
“It’s a left ankle sprain,” Donovan said after the game. “I know nothing more than that. It is something that we will have to see how it feels in the morning.”
The team was noticeably upset that their leader went down in such pain. Paul George mentioned Westbrook’s high tolerance for pain and that the image of the All-Star in serious pain as he walked to the tunnel was upsetting.
“I knew it was something serious,” George said. “I thought it was his knee. I thought I saw him grabbing it. But luckily, it’s not as bad as it could have been.”
If Westbrook is unable to go on Wednesday night in Cleveland, the Thunder have confidence that Schröder can handle the team in his absence. With the way the former Atlanta Hawk preformed tonight, it’s easy to agree with their confidence.
“Yeah he was great,” Donovan said of Schröder. “I think with Russell being out and the ball being in his hands more, there’s a lot he can learn from the game. In terms of what’s open. I thought the communication between Dennis, Paul and Steven was very positive. He’s a smart basketball player and he made some timely plays and shots.”
The Thunder will play the Cavaliers Wednesday night and return to Oklahoma City Thursday night to take on the Houston Rockets.