Durant leads Thunder over Pelicans

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — When Pelicans 7-footer Jason Smith stepped outside for the type of mid-range jumper he hits routinely, Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka sprang out to the perimeter and blocked the shot.

While the Thunder can usually rely on plenty of scoring from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, it was a concerted defensive effort in the second half that helped them build and keep a comfortable lead down the stretch in a 109-95 victory over New Orleans on Friday night.

“Everybody did a great job helping each other on defense and there was more communication,” said Ibaka, who had 17 points, 13 rebounds and three of the Thunder’s 11 blocks. “Our focus was to contest every shot and make them make tough shots. Some nights they will make them but I think tonight we did a great job and that was the key.”

Durant scored 29 points and Westbrook added 25 as Oklahoma City beat New Orleans for the ninth straight time and 14th in 15 meetings. Most of those games occurred when New Orleans’ team was called the Hornets.

Ryan Anderson scored 18 for the Pelicans, who lost their second straight at home while playing their third full game without power forward Anthony Davis, sidelined by a broken left hand. New Orleans also lost guard Tyreke Evans to a left ankle sprain late in the third quarter, and soon afterward Oklahoma City built a 15-point lead.

“I hate to say we didn’t play well. We just missed so many shots in the paint,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “Whether they blocked the shot or distracted us, or we threw it up there and just didn’t make it, I thought that messed with us a little.”

New Orleans raced to an early double-digit lead, only to fall behind 58-52 by halftime after Westbrook pulled up for a quick 3-pointer with 31 seconds left in the quarter and Reggie Jackson hit another with 2.7 seconds left.

Westbrook said he was just trying to assure his team two possessions inside the last 38 seconds.

“It worked out for us,” he said. “We got two 3s out of it. They got nothing.”

Durant, who also had three blocks, opened the second half with a 3 to make it a nine-point game and the Thunder led the entire second half — rather comfortably throughout the fourth quarter, going up by as many as 20.

It was precisely the type of second-half effort the Thunder sought after giving up 35 third-quarter points in a loss at Portland two nights earlier.

“We were really disappointed in how we lost last game and wanted to be better,” Durant said. “We’re a really good team after losses.”

Jackson scored 15 for Oklahoma City, which shot 50.6 percent (39 of 77) and rarely allowed its lead to slip below double digits after Thabo Sefolosha’s driving dunk made it 74-64 in the middle of the third quarter.

Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon each scored 16 for New Orleans, which shot 37.5 percent (33 of 88) and hurt itself by going 3 of 16 from 3-point range. Evans had 11 before his injury and Anthony Morrow 10.

Oklahoma City shot nearly 59 percent in the opening half, when Durant (19 points) and Westbrook (17) combined for 36 points.

New Orleans had the largest lead of the half when Holiday’s reverse layup made it 22-11 halfway through the opening quarter. But the Thunder chipped away, regaining the lead early in the second.

The game was tied at 52 after Gordon’s fast-break layup. Then came the back-to-back 3s by Westbrook and Jackson in the final half-minute of the second quarter, and the Thunder never trailed again.

Oklahoma City, which is 9-0 at home, improved to 5-4 on the road. … New Orleans outrebounded Oklahoma City 49-41. Smith grabbed 12 rebounds for the Pelicans and Al-Farouq Aminu had 10. … Oklahoma City turned 16 New Orleans turnovers into 24 points and outscored the Pelicans in fast-break points 17-10. … New Orleans might have lost the game by an even wider margin if not for 19 offensive rebounds and 20 second-chance points.