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The Thunder cannot lose this season.
OKC won their first game of the new year, 108-99 over the Orlando Magic, but it didn’t feel like a total victory because they’re supposed to lose. However, the young core led the way, so it’s one of those complicated instances where a win is actually allowed to feel like a win.
Thunder wins? That’s a guilty pleasure win.
The young core shows out in a win? That’s a win within a win.
Had the young core struggled but the old vets led the way? That’s trade value win.
And if OKC had lost? Hey, that’s a draft win.
Welcome to 2021.
There’s something to be happy about after every game this season. On nights like Saturday against the Magic, there are several. While the Thunder possibly hurt their future draft stock, the young players that future lottery pick will eventually join put on a show in front of a real live crowd of around 3,000 (so basically a Detroit Pistons crowd pre-COVID).
Some are going to scan the box score, scope Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s shooting splits and scoff at the assertion he played well. I get it. He only hit 5 of 17 shots for 16 points. That’s a Dion Waiters Wednesday. But did Dion ever dish 7 assists with only 1 turnover? Shai controlled the game with his pace, never got rattled, made the right read every trip down, played good defense, and grabbed 5 rebounds.
Lu Dort had 9 points, 4 boards, a block, a steal and one SportsCenter worthy reverse layup with a dash of Chubby Checker.
Hamidou Diallo continues to make blog boys like me eat my tweets by scoring 12 points on 5-9 shooting and snatching 8 rebounds. We can criticize Hami’s shot selection and shooting ability all we want, but I’m cranking his offensive rebounding and put back abilities off his own misses to a 99 on NBA2K.
Poku came down with his first case of gun shyness, as the usually quick trigger happy rookie only shot one time. He had 0 points, 0 assists, 0 blocks, 1 steal, 2 rebounds and 2 turnovers but somehow was OKC’s leader in plus minus with a +12 in 14 minutes.
Theo Maledon finally replicated his eye-opening preseason debut with a 12-4-3 line in 19 minutes. The #34 overall pick was matched up with fellow rookie point guard Cole Anthony, who was drafted 19 spots earlier at #15. Maledon completely outplayed the hyped Anthony, as America’s best French gift since The Statue of Liberty scored 10 more points than the formerly projected lottery pick on the same number of shots.
And last but certainly best, Bazley led the Thunder in both points and rebounds on the night. After three straight down games, Darius looked like his Bubble self once again. Apparently, OKC needs to schedule more games in Orlando. OKC is 2-0 when Darius double doubles this season and 0-3 when he does not. More Bazley trivia: in both OKC wins, Bazley was the first player to score in the game.
Al Horford and George Hill were solid to great as usual, but this game wasn’t about the steady vets or the future rookies. It was about the current core reminding everyone there’s more than looking back at the Thunder stars of the past or ahead to the draft picks of the future. The Thunder present can be supply some wins too.
This season is going to be fun for Thunder fans. There’s 67 games left on the schedule.
All of them guaranteed wins.
- Shai hit a 3 from Space Mountain. Maybe the most range I’ve seen Shai show in-game.
- Lu Dort pump faked and passed up a few open 3s. Someone needs to remind Lu he’s shooting better than Curry, Dame, Luka, Buddy, Kyrie, PG, Redick and Beal this season.
- Theo Maledon broke fellow rookie Cole Anthony’s ankles on a crossover into a midrange jumper at the 1st quarter buzzer.
- Maledon was selected at #34. Anthony was selected at #15. Watching them 1v1, you’d think that was reversed.
- George Hill had 13 points in seven 3rd quarter minutes. He’d help every single playoff team and Sam Presti knows it.
- Maledon led the bench unit to their best performance of the season and Mark Daigneault rewarded him with extended minutes with the starters.
- Darius Bazley with his 2nd double double in 5 games. He had 1 double double in 61 games last season.
- Al Horford hit a clutch dagger 3 at the shot clock buzzer with 50 seconds left that deflated every Magic fan and Sam Presti.
- Every Thunder bench player had a positive +/- tonight.
- Maledon said in postgame that his teammates and coaches told him to be more aggressive like he was in the first preseason game. He wants to continue playing that way from now on.
- OKC is 2-0 on the road and 0-3 at home. Thunder fans gonna have to pick up the intensity in Loud City.
- Up next: at the Miami Heat. Last year’s Finals runner-up and this year’s only actively tanking team have the same record at 2-3.