TULSA, Okla. — What rust?
Seeing his first action of the preseason, Eric Gordon started at shooting guard and finished with a team-high 21 points as the New Orleans Pelicans stayed unbeaten in exhibition action with a 105-102 decision over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night.
“It felt good out there tonight. It was a good team win,” Gordon said. “I feel healthy. It’s the first time I’ve really felt good in about two years. Now it’s time for me to step up to the next level. This was our fifth preseason game, and it’s time to start ramping things up.”
Brian Roberts was the late-game hero for the Pelicans, scoring 12 of his 14 points in the second half, including what proved to be the game-winner on a jumper with 30.6 seconds remaining to give New Orleans a 103-102 lead.
“We just had to weather the storm and keep our composure at the end of the game,” Roberts said. “We hit some big shots in the fourth quarter.”
Anthony Davis added a pair of free throws with 21.0 seconds left, extending the Pelicans’ lead to 105-102. Davis also came through defensively in the final seconds, blocking Jeremy Lamb’s 3-point attempt that would’ve tied the score with 3.6 seconds left.
Davis finished with 18 points, matching Ryan Anderson’s 18-point production off the bench.
Before Thursday’s game against the Thunder, Pelicans coach Monty Williams said he was interested to see his team’s play with Gordon on the court.
It didn’t take long for Williams to get a glimpse of the backcourt the Pelicans and their fans have been itching to see all offseason.
Gordon showed no rust in his return, driving the lane and drawing a foul on Oklahoma City’s Hasheem Thabeet the first time he touched the ball. Gordon dropped both free throws, then hit a 3-pointer on the Pelicans’ next possession.
The fifth-year player from Indiana made his most acrobatic shot of the night on New Orleans’ next possession, falling away from Thunder superstar Kevin Durant and banking the shot of the glass.
“It’s obvious that when you score 21 points in 21 minutes, you had a good offensive night, but I like that he attacked tonight,” Williams said. “He didn’t shy away from contact at all.”
While Williams refused to call the matchup against Oklahoma City a measuring stick for his young team, the Pelicans looked impressive against the Thunder.
New Orleans held a 28-26 lead at the end of the first quarter thanks in part to Gordon, but also thanks to hot shooting from Alex Aminu, who played the entire period and hit all four of his attempts.
Williams said before the contest he was hoping to limit the Thunder’s opportunities inside, but Greg Stiemsma and Davis were both whistled for two fouls in the game’s first seven minutes, quickly sending them to the bench.
Oklahoma City opened the second quarter with 10-1 run to quickly grab momentum and bring the Thunder crowd back to life. Derek Fisher and Ryan Gomes connected on back-to-back 3-pointers to cap the run, part of Oklahoma City’s 9-of-12 shooting performance from behind the arc in the first half.
The Thunder led by as many as 10 midway through the second quarter before Gordon came off the bench to jumpstart the Pelicans offense. A pair of free throws and a 3-pointer were part of New Orleans’ 10-4 burst to end the first half as the Pelicans cut Oklahoma City’s lead to 56-52 at intermission.
Gordon finished with 14 points in the first half, hitting four of his six attempts, including two of his 3-point tries.
New Orleans finally regained the lead with 7:01 to play in the third quarter as Anderson capped a 6-0 burst by following a Jrue Holliday miss with a dunk to give the Pelicans a 69-67 edge and force a Thunder timeout.
With Oklahoma City leading 81-79 heading into the final quarter, the Thunder opened with a 6-0 spurt to grab their largest lead since the first half. The Pelicans, however, were undeterred, battling back to tie the score on a jumper by Austin Rivers with 6:52 to play and taking the lead on their next possession, with Roberts draining a 3-pointer with 6:14 remaining.
“I thought it was a great effort tonight. I like the fight of our team,” Williams said. “You want to win by 20, but these types of games are what you need to grow as a team.”
Durant shrugged off a slow start to post a game-high 25 points. After shooting just 4-of-12 from the field in the first half, Durant found his range in the third quarter. Durant nailed a 3-pointer to open the Thunder’s second-half scoring and finished the quarter with 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting.
Durant totaled 32 minutes but not see action in the fourth quarter.