(Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder)

The Drive and Dish | Jan. 25, 2024

Dub for the Win

By Nick Gallo | Broadcast Reporter and Digital Editor | okcthunder.com

Jalen’s Game-Winner, the Origins of 0 and 0, Jersey Retirements and more!

The Drive and Dish is here to answer the questions that might be going through your head during a Thunder game by providing experienced insight, highlighting aspects of the game you might have missed and pulling you behind the curtain with anecdotes, analysis, and stats.   

Here’s what you need to know as the Thunder finishes up the final trip of a road-heavy January, capping a stretch of 11 out of 14 games away from home. 

Tunnel Vision in San Antonio

The Thunder has been one of the best teams in the NBA on the second night of a back-to-back this season, now 5-2 on the year with the number one offense in the league in those situations after steamrolling the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night in a 140-114 victory. With the season-high in points on 56-percent shooting, the Thunder registered its 26th game this year (out of 44) with at least 50 percent shooting. 

In this one, the Thunder’s offense had great tunnel vision and solved problems together to generate efficient, energetic  offense that produced 36 assists and six different players in double figures. Aaron Wiggins continued his extremely efficient season with a season-high 22 points on 11 field goal attempts, including 4 made threes. After halftime, the Thunder scored 77 points and used a 15-2 late third quarter run to build a 24-point cushion that eventually rose to as many as 32 in the runaway victory, OKC’s fourth straight. 

JDub Comes up Clutch 

Most defenses are going to key in on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in clutch time, and for good reason. He already has five career game winners with two seconds or less left on the clock. But the Thunder wants to be unpredictable, and this week has shown just how versatile it can be late in games.

This past week, Shai has been in the mix on some late crunch time buckets – including a massive go-ahead step-back 3 in Minnesota to help the Thunder topple the Timberwolves. He also set up rookie Cason Wallace for a dagger 3-pointer in Utah to put OKC up seven with 52 seconds to go. 

On Tuesday night back in Oklahoma City, it was Shai just using his gravity on a play designed for Jalen Williams. In one of the wilder sequences you’ll see to close an NBA game, the Thunder was down 109-106 with 29.9 seconds remaining against the Portland Trail Blazers. It had been a tough night, with the OKC searching for rhythm and shot-making. In need of some quick points, JDub attacked left and hit a midrange jumper. 

On the ensuing defensive play the Thunder didn’t immediately foul, but instead pressured Malcolm Brogdon into a double dribble. Blazers coach Chauncey Billups was assessed two technical fouls after the sequence, and Shai hit one of the two free throws to tie the game. Having seen JDub just make a jumper going left, Thunder Head Coach Mark Daigneault drew up a play using Shai flashing in to set a fake screen out top, giving Williams the opportunity to attack and find his spot. With exactly two seconds left on the clock, JDub buried his pull up, and sent the Thunder back on the road with a hard-fought win. 

All month, Williams has been outstanding in second halves and fourth quarters, and his work inside 30 seconds on Tuesday reinforced to the Thunder and opponents alike that they can’t load up on one guy when the game is on the line. 

The Origins of Zero-and-Zero 

For the last few years, we’ve heard Thunder players use the phrase “Zero-and-Zero Mentality” as a metaphor for the type of mental focus and emotional regulation that is required to win in a sustainable way over a long 82-game NBA season. The term has been used more frequently since Mark Daigneault took over the head coaching duties in 2020, but on Monday Daigneault revealed that he took the phrase from none other than former Thunder forward Nick Collison back in the 2016 Playoffs. 

“We were playing Dallas in a playoff series and we won a road game,” Daigneault said. “We took a lead in the series, kind of a swing game in the series. Nick Collison – in the locker room after the game, everybody was excited – stopped everybody, which he didn't do very often. 

He was like, ‘Happy teams get beat. We have to get back to zero-and-zero for the next game’. I thought that was pretty profound. I was like ‘Oh, that's really wise.’ So that triggered a little bit of an idea there. It's also just trying to get out in front of all this stuff that you're going to confront in the season and get the team thinking like that.” 

The anecdote is a great reminder of the through-lines that exist in Oklahoma City from the founding of the team in 2008 and the values that have been carried forth all the way up to the present. There’s a core philosophy that includes the zero-and-zero mentality, the 48-minute mindset and other lessons that Thunder teams have attached to over the years and remain relevant across time – an example of the importance of something rare in a volatile NBA world: stability

Even this week, the Thunder demonstrated its ability to get back to zero-and-zero – with a resilient response to dropping two games in Los Angeles with gritty wins in Utah and Minnesota and then again with a faith-filled effort to outlast Portland back at home. Regardless of opponent, the scoreboard or circumstance, the Thunder has excelled at getting back to neutral each game and each play. 

Chet Honored in Minneapolis 

It was the end of a four-game road trip against heavy-hitting Western Conference foes just a week after the Thunder had returned from a four-game trip dotting up and down the east coast. Concluding a stretch of four games in six nights on the road, it would have been more than acceptable for Thunder players to want a night in their hotel rooms instead of out in the sub-zero temperatures of Minneapolis. 

For this tight-knit Thunder team, however, when the text message went out saying that rookie Chet Holmgren was going to get his jersey retired by his high school on Friday night before OKC’s game against the Timberwolves, Daigneault said the collective response was effectively “when does the bus leave?” 

That type of support is ubiquitous in the Thunder locker room, as players drove two hours on a bus for Kenrich Williams’ jersey retirement at University High School in Waco back in December as well. While Chet sat on the Minnehaha High School team bench during a video presentation to begin the affair, his Thunder teammates sat in the rows directly behind him, ready for their moment to rush the court. When Holmgren raised the plaque that held his number 34 jersey, Thunder teammates descended from the rafters to shower the rookie with hugs and pats on the back. 

The next night, the youthful and connected Thunder shook off an 11-point fourth quarter deficit and made enough plays down the stretch to escape Minnesota with its 25th double-digit comeback victory over the last two seasons, tied for the most in that time span. 

Holmgren’s jersey retirement wasn’t the only one last week. Thunder TV analyst Michael Cage had his number 44 retired at his alma mater San Diego State University – well deserved honor for an Aztec – and Thunder broadcasting – legend. 

Heads up Plays by Josh

To come away with the types of victories the Thunder has earned over the past few weeks it takes a team full of alert players being ready to think a step ahead and make savvy plays. One guy who is known for that type of anticipation is third-year guard Josh Giddey, who shows his instinctual passing prowess nightly but did so in three unconventional ways just within the past week.

In Utah, Giddey snatched the ball out of the net after a Jazz make and immediately flung the ball up ahead to Vasilije Micić, effectively starting a fast break out of thin air and preventing the Jazz defense from getting set. The result was a foul and two free throws for Micić. Later in that game, Giddey knew that he wouldn’t be able to retrieve a defensive rebound himself, so he just made a controlled tap out to Kenrich Williams, who began another fast break run out that led to free throws. 

The most impressive play of impromptu, unconventional passes came in the first quarter in Minnesota as the Thunder built a commanding 30-15 lead. After the Thunder generated a loose ball on defense, Giddey ensured that it would register as a turnover by hustling to the ball and flipping it behind his back all the way out ahead to Gilgeous-Alexander and Jalen Williams who raced out ahead for a transition finish. 

Looking Ahead 

After a well-deserved day off in between games, the Thunder starts another stretch of three games in four nights in New Orleans to face a surging Pelicans squad. The Thunder’s road-heavy month concludes in Detroit with a Sunday matinee clash against the Pistons before the team returns home to OKC to face the Timberwolves for the fourth and final time this year. 

Look for the Thunder to utilize the entirety of its roster the way it did against Portland with unexpected cameos from veteran forward Dāvis Bertāns and rookie two-way guard Keyontae Johnson. Energy from reserves can buoy the team during this stretch of five games in seven nights to cap the road trip and begin the upcoming four-game homestand. 

Friday night’s game in New Orleans starts at 7 p.m. CT and will be the first of eight Friday night games to end the regular season that will air locally for free on KSBI channel 52 in Oklahoma City and 6.3 in Tulsa. The game will also be on COX channel 7 in Oklahoma City and 53 in Tulsa. Sunday’s game in Detroit will begin at 1 p.m. CT. Be sure to tune in on Bally Sports Oklahoma, follow along on our @okcthunder social accounts and stay here on the Thunder App or okcthunder.com.

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