It’s typical of Russell Westbrook to try and steal the show on the night Kevin Durant comes back from his injury, playing for the first time this season. The effort from both players wasn’t enough against the big game from Tyreke Evans and Anthony Davis, as the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 112-104.
Durant missed 17 games for the Thunder in which they went 5-12. With the Western conference running away from them and his leg no longer bothering him, it was time to return. So how did he do? Durant scored 27 points on 9-of-18 from the field, but looked a little bit less aggressive when it came to attacking the basket against traffic. In any case, Russell Westbrook wasn’t about to give up on his status as the team’s number one player that he lucked into. Westbrook scored 21 points on 6-of-20 from the field, turning the ball over seven times.
While the Thunder managed to make a game of it, mostly thanks to Durant’s shooting (3-of-8 from beyond the arc), coming back from being down by 19, it’s going to take time for Durant to scare teams like before. Maybe just a game or two, but the Pelicans, not the greatest defensive team in the league, didn’t seem intimidated. It was quite clear that the return of Durant messed a little bit with the Thunder’s defense, giving up way too many easy points, including 54 in the paint.
Evans led the Pelicans with 30 points, Anthony Davis finished with a 25-10 double double but impressed with six steals and four blocks in what looks like another performance to put into the scrapbook of what might turn out into an MVP campaign. Durant might have been grabbing most of the attention from the TV announcers but Davis, by far, was the best player on the court, and just might be the best in the league this season when it’s award season.
The struggles for Durant came in half court. He scored 11 points in transition on 4-of-4 from the field, but was only 5-of-14 from the field when shooting through half court offense sets, always an issue for the Thunder when Durant isn’t knocking down shots in a way that only he can. Ten of his points came in the fourth quarter. He turned the ball five times through the first three quarters, but everything improved in the final one: No turnovers, and his shooting percentage rose from 45% to 57.1%.
The struggles for Durant right now are when he puts the ball on the floor. On catch and shoot plays he was 5-of-9, scoring 15 points. When he had to put the ball on the floor in the half court sets, he was just 2-of-7 from the field, turning the ball over three times as well. Aggression, as we mentioned, is an issue. He shot just 1-of-7 from the field when he was guarded by either Anthony Davis or Omer Asik, while going 4-of-7 in half court offense against everyone else.
The Thunder are obviously better with Kevin Durant, in this game and for the season. You can’t be any worse off when the MVP comes back. But it’s probably going to take a bit more time before everything falls into place on both ends of the floor. The big question is whether or not Westbrook is willing to relinquish control of an offense he thought he’d have more time to lead (missed too many games himself) and whether or not the team’s improvement will be enough to make up for the lost time and wins.