OKLAHOMA CITY — Though the future implications of what happened with 4:25 remaining in the third quarter are not entirely known, it appeared awful in the moment Monday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Instead, moments after Russell Westbrook was helped off the court and into the locker room with what appeared to be a severely sprained ankle at best, the Thunder bench chose to make that the moment it fueled the run that led to Oklahoma City’s 122-116 victory over New Orleans.
Westbrook went down following a short shot in the paint by the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis. As Davis’ feet returned to earth in the space occupied by Westbrook, the Thunder point guard crumbled.
As the game continued, the Thunder announced Westbrook had suffered a sprained ankle and nothing more, though the length of time he may miss remains unknown.
Back on the court, The Thunder were leading 84-82 with 2:45 remaining in the third quarter when coach Billy Donovan inserted Alex Abrines, Patrick Patterson and Hamidou Diallo to join Steven Adams and Dennis Schroder.
From that point forward, Oklahoma City closed the frame on a 16-4 run.
The Thunder got points their last seven trips down the floor in the frame: a 3-pointer from Patterson, a driving basket from Abrines, consecutive dunks from Diallo, a layup from Schroder and a reverse layup from Adams.
“It was all defense,” Donovan said.
He has a point.
In addition to all the points-bearing trips, over the same span, the Pelicans grabbed only one rebound total and turned the ball over three times, two of them Diallo steals that led to the Diallo dunks.
“We said, like, ‘We’ve got a game to win,’” Abrines said of any conversation between players after Westbrook departed. “We did a really good job of fighting and playing at the highest level.”
The Thunder never lost the lead, though it did become dicey by the end.
A 3-pointer from Julius Randle brought New Orleans within 118-116 with 23.3 seconds remaining, yet after yet another difficult night from the free-throw line — OKC had canned 18 of 27 at that point — the Thunder hit their last four, getting two from Schroder and two from Paul George to put the game away.
The Thunder would have been lost over the final 12 minutes without Schroder, who scored 11 of the Thunder’s 22 points in the final frame, as well as half of his 22 in 23 1/2 minutes of court time.
“I thought, Dennis, the way he played in the absence of Russell, was really a major contributing factor in the game,” Donovan said.
The victory was Oklahoma City’s fifth straight after four straight losses to begin the season.
George led the Thunder with 23 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Schroder came off the bench to net 22 in 23 1/2 minutes.
Steven Adams added 18 points and eight rebounds, while making Pelican center Anthony Davis work for all 20 of his points and eight rebounds.
Before departing, Westbrook went for 17 points, seven rebounds and nine assists. Patrick Patterson finished with 10 points in less than 17 minutes, making all three of his 3-point attempts.
For the Pelicans, Randle finished with a scoring line he may never again repeat: 10 of 10 from the field, 2 of 2 from the 3-point arc and 4 of 4 from the free-throw line to finish with a game-high 26 points.
Very possibly without Westbrook, the Thunder travel to Cleveland for a 6 p.m. Wednesday tip.