The Pelicans had zero transition points, largely a product of Ibaka’s presence preventing them from taking advantage of the Thunder’s 11 turnovers. “He’s got great timing,” Rivers said of Ibaka. “He can just run the floor so well. Off turnovers, we didn’t capitalize and a big part of that is because most bigs can’t sprint back. Most bigs, when a turnover happens, they just hang back, or they’ll sprint and not get there. He’s fast enough to keep up with guards. When you have a 7-foot guy who can jump running on a fast break on defense, it’s hard to get to the basket. Their defense is all on him. Without Ibaka, this is a whole different team.”
Of course, Ibaka’s biggest challenger, Pelicans All-Star forward Anthony Davis, was out with a bum back. He was one of three Pelicans starters on the injury report, joined by point guard Jrue Holiday and shooting guard Eric Gordon. New Orleans sixth man Ryan Anderson also has been on the shelf since early January. The most talented Pelicans player remaining, Tyreke Evans, then left the game midway through the third with bone bruise.
Oklahoma City only added to the Pelicans string of poor luck, sending them to their seventh straight loss. It also was the Thunder’s 10th straight win over the Pelicans and the 14th in the past 15 meetings.
Durant scored a game-high 27 points, Westbrook chipped in 24 points and seven assists and Reggie Jackson added 11 points and eight assists off the bench.
But on this night, it was Ibaka who from the start made sure his team didn’t overlook its opponent.
“He’s the best defensive guy in the league for his position,” Durant said. “He was there for us all night.”