One word comes to mind as I attempt to describe the Thunder’s 123-115 win over the Lakers.
What else could I possibly say? The team rallied from down 26 points to earn the victory over a contender. Safe to say I’m speechless.
But let’s try to break this one down.
The first quarter of the game was downright shocking for Oklahoma City. They were outscored 41-19 and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander struggled to get it going, shooting just 1-5 from the field in the period. The team lacked the ball movement that had been so important for them over the course of the last four games and it felt like there was a lid on the top of the rim. Nothing was hitting the bottom of the net.
Defensively, the trend of centers dominating OKC on the inside continued as Anthony Davis recorded 12 early points. It was looking like another one of those games that the Thunder had grown accustomed to during the 2020-21 season.
Or so we thought.
The second quarter didn’t get off to a great start either, as the Lakers jumped out to their biggest lead of the night with 3:30 left in the second quarter. This is when the turnaround began. To close out the quarter the Thunder went on a 12-2 run, cutting the lead to 16 points.
Darius Bazley led the team in scoring at the half with 13. The third-year player has received mixed reviews to start the season due to his volatile level of play. Coming into the season, he knew he must perform to a higher standard than previous years if he wished to retain his spot on the roster. It’s far too early to say if he’s playing well enough, but his 20 points last night were a step in the right direction. He was aggressive when attacking the rim, something he’s previously lacked, and he was knocking down the three.
The third quarter is when things really got going for the Thunder. At the 9:25 mark, Lu Dort knocked down a three to cut the lead to just 10. OKC was rolling and could not be stopped.
Shai’s heroics towards the end of the third are what won this basketball game. A pull-up three, a sidestep three and an absolutely bonkers bank shot three at the buzzer all within the last two minutes not only had the Thunder well and truly in the game but had them in the lead and the 15,783 fans in attendance on their feet.
“I felt good, I felt hot. I tried to ride the momentum,” said Gilgeous-Alexander.
Seriously, watch this three from Shai.
SGA had a rough first two games of the season and as is typical of NBA fans, the overreactions began. But he has put those takes to bed over the Thunder’s recent three-game homestand. He is simply a superstar in the making and the centerpiece of this chaotic rebuild.
In addition to Shai, the team’s defensive intensity throughout the third quarter forced several turnovers and 15 deflections. This young team really gets after it and is as scrappy as any other team.
“No matter what, we’re gonna compete… If we do that, we give our best shot every night,” said Gilgeous-Alexander.
With 30 seconds remaining in the game and OKC up one, Josh Giddey did what he does best, setting up a teammate for an easy bucket. He attacked the basket in the pick-and-roll with Derrick Favors before dumping it off with one hand to Favors for the two points.
This was just one of 10 assists on the night from Giddey, who has been exceptional to start his NBA career. He’s shown that there are not many players in the league who can pass the ball better than him. His floater game has also been remarkable, to say the least. It’s been his primary scoring weapon so far and he’s knocking it down efficiently. It seems he can get to it whenever he wants.
His poise and maturity so early in his career is impressive. He looks like a seasoned vet and Mark Daigneault is already comfortable with him handling the ball and running the offense.
“He’s really confident and really comfortable,” Dort said of Giddey. “He’s just a baller, you know?”
As the final seconds of the game approached, it almost seemed as if the team remembered that Paolo Banchero exists, because they tried their absolute hardest to lose it down the stretch.
With 17 seconds, they weren’t able to get the ball across half court in time, resulting in an 8-second violation. Do the Lakers take advantage of this? No. Malik Monk puts up the three, it airballs and lands out of bounds. Being the nice guy that he is, Giddey decides to give the Lakers another chance to win it, passing the inbound directly to Carmelo Anthony, who also airballs another three. Two clutch shot attempts were gifted to the Lakers, yet zero contact with the rim was made.
The exclamation point on the best win of the tanking era was a dunk from Bazley on the fastbreak with four seconds left, much to the displeasure of Russell Westbrook, who received his second technical foul of the night and was tossed from the game. Westbrook was booed off the floor in Oklahoma City as he headed to the locker room, which is not something I thought I would ever write.
Amidst lingering concerns over the team’s attendance numbers, the Thunder faithful in the building showed they still care about this team and the team proved they were still worth coming to see in person. After a whopping NINE years of consecutive sell-outs, the Thunder’s attendance percentage is sitting at just 84.1% through three home games this season. This is to be expected for a small-market team that isn’t looking to consistently win, but we know Oklahoma City loves the Thunder and seeing this young team battle it out every night should draw fans back into the arena.
“It was awesome. They were a big part of the win,” Giddey said of the Paycom Center crowd. “When they’re jumping around going crazy, it’s a big spark for us. When they’re going, we’re going.”
Coach Daigneault has made it crystal clear that he intends to play around with the rotation as he has many young guys in need of time to develop. Against the Lakers, Aleksej Pokusevksi played seven minutes, Theo Maledon played five, Jeremiah Robinson-Early played five and Tre Mann also played five.
“There’s no rotation,” said Daigneault. “We’ve got a lot of guys we believe in and we think are going to improve with opportunity.”
Despite sitting at 1-4, the Thunder have been one of the more entertaining teams in the league so far. Games like this are important to have when you’re a team at the bottom of the standings. It keeps the fans engaged and helps greatly with team morale.
This Thunder team is nothing if not fun. Tuning in every other day is a joy. OKC takes the floor again against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday.