(Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder)

The Drive and Dish | Feb. 15, 2024

Into the Break Strong

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

OKC’s Consistent Defense, Some Team Transactions, and looking ahead to All-Star Weekend 

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 heads into the All-Star Break, with five players representing the organization in Indianapolis at All-Star Weekend. 

Thunder Disarms Magic 

In the final game before the All-Star Break the Thunder went into Orlando to face an Eastern Conference team on the rise in an emotional environment. It was the Magic’s first nationally televised home game in a decade and also jersey retirement night for NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, so a raucous crowd awaited the Thunder on Tuesday night.  

Despite those potential distractions, the Thunder put on a clinic in defensive consistency. After giving up a few too many points in the paint in the opening minutes, the Thunder’s defense totally stymied Orlando’s offense the rest of the way – forcing the Magic to play in a crowd and take contested jumpers. The Magic shot just 45 percent from the field and just 30.6 percent from three while coughing up 16 turnovers as OKC sprinted into the break with a 127-113 victory and a 37-17 record.  

Thunder Makes Some Moves

Following last Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, the Thunder announced a few transactions that will affect the roster moving forward. The first move was a trade for 14-year NBA veteran Gordon Hayward, a 6-foot-7 wing who can impact the game with passing, rebounding, length on defense and scoring at all three levels. The goal according to Mark Daigneault is to “measure twice and cut once” in terms of Hayward’s integration into the team. He already fits into the Thunder’s style of play, but OKC wants the transition to be as seamless as possible. 

The move resulted in a pair of roster spots opening, so the Thunder also announced the elevation of Lindy Waters III from a two-way contract to a full-time deal and the signing of a 13-year NBA veteran, center Bismack Biyombo. Finally, the Thunder announced the singing of rookie OKC Blue guard Adam Flagler to fill the two-way spot that Waters vacated.

“[Hayward and Biyombo] have had long careers and they've played with a lot of different teammates, teams and systems,” said Daigneault of the veterans’ willingness and flexibility to play a role despite being former top 10 picks. “Usually, guys that play that long have to be adaptive. You're being put in a lot of different situations. It's way more of the exception when it's not the case.”

Relocating on Second Chances for 3s

Regardless of the tough result last Saturday in Dallas, the Thunder did a nice job of staying focused on the play at hand and making the most of its misses. On a trio of possessions Thunder players re-located after an errant shot and ended up with an even better look: a kickout for 3 on the second chance. Chet hit one of those threes after finding some open space, then facilitated another on a kickout to Aaron Wiggins. Perhaps the best, but simplest one came when Isaiah Joe missed a short baseline jumper, then retreated back to the corner where Kenrich Williams kicked it right back to him for a wide-open look. 

Leveraging Pressure 

Open 3s like the one Joe hit can lead to what the Thunder really wants – cavernous pathways to the rim for layups. In the opening minutes against Sacramento, that’s exactly what the Thunder generated. A pair of 3-pointers by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jalen Williams in the first 1:59 of the game forced a Kings timeout, and out of the break the Thunder leveraged a newly aggressive Kings defense against itself. 

Swinging it on the perimeter, the Thunder attacked Sacramento’s perimeter pressure with back cutting and passing. In the immediacy after those back-to-back threes, Jalen hit Shai back door for a dunk, Shai and JDub each found Chet on the baseline with a bounce pass. In the fourth quarter, looking for a bucket to put the game away, the trio combined for perhaps one of the prettiest plays of the season. Shai drew out a double team high on the floor and dished to the opposite wing to Chet, who was ready to make the angled pass on the cut by JDub for an easy, crowd-pleasing dunk. 

Looking Ahead - All-Star Break 

For most of the Thunder, this Wednesday to the following Wednesday will be a well-deserved break after battling through two-thirds of the season schedule. For five members of the Thunder organization, however, the end of Tuesday’s game in Orlando meant the start of a busy week out in Indianapolis for NBA All-Star Weekend. 

On Friday, Jalen Williams, Chet Holmgren and Cason Wallace will be participating in the Rising Stars game at 8:00 pm CT on TNT. JDub and Chet were both selected by guest coach Jalen Rose, while Cason Wallace was selected by Pau Gasol. 

On Sunday, rookie two-way guard Keyontae Johnson will participate in the G League Up Next Game at 12:30 pm CT on NBA TV before Shai Gilgeous-Alexander represents the Thunder as a starter in the All-Star Game at 7 p.m. CT on TNT later that night. 

In between, the players will have all sorts of events to attend and appearances to make, so be sure to stick with @okcthunder social channels and okcthunder.com throughout the weekend. 

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