The Oklahoma City Thunder are doing a better job of closing out games. The New Orleans Pelicans are not.
The Thunder lost their first seven games of the season that were decided by five or fewer points, but they have won their last two.
The most recent came at home Friday when they outscored the Pelicans 6-0 down the stretch en route to a 109-104 victory. The teams meet again Sunday afternoon in New Orleans.
"The biggest thing is that we never gave up and we closed out the game on defense," Thunder guard Chris Paul said. "I think once we continue to figure out that our defense can win more games for us than our offense, we'll be fine."
Oklahoma City got just enough offense down the stretch, thanks primarily to Dennis Schroder scoring 12 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter and Steven Adams scoring the last four points in the final minute after Paul's jumper had put the Thunder on top.
Pelicans rookie Jaxson Hayes wasn't on Adams at the end, but he had his hands full at the beginning. Adams scored 10 of Oklahoma City's first 13 points against Hayes as a springboard to a 34-26 lead after the first quarter.
"It was definitely a struggle," Hayes said. "I mean, I was shoving him as hard as I can, and he's not even moving. That's one strong dude."
Thunder coach Billy Donovan called his team's second victory in as many games against New Orleans "a really good team win." Oklahoma City beat the visiting Pelicans, 115-104, on Nov. 2.
"We did a fairly good job of closing the game out," Donovan said. "I thought top to bottom, everybody that was out there really contributed in a big way."
Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram bounced back after making just 4 of 21 shots against his former team in a 114-110 home loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday. He had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting to go along with eight rebounds against the Thunder.
New Orleans' leading scorer has had at least 21 points in each of his last nine games. The last time Ingram had fewer than 21 was when he had seven in the first meeting with Oklahoma City.
Ingram's basket put the Pelicans on top with 2:48 left Friday night, but they didn't score again. They took a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter against the Lakers before faltering.
"I don't know why, but we have a tendency to start playing isolation basketball in the last three minutes," New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. "We got back in the game simply because we were moving the basketball and moving ourselves.
"We've just got to get to a point where we're doing it for 48 minutes, not 45 and not 47."
New Orleans trailed Oklahoma City by as many as 16 points midway through the second quarter, following a familiar theme in which the team falls behind early before fighting back.
"We have to expend so much energy to get the game back even again that it's hard for us to have enough energy to finish the game." Gentry said.
--Field Level Media