(Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder)

The Drive and Dish | March 7, 2024

Caso, Shai and Wiggs Disruptive on D

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

OKC’s Give-and-Go Action, Wings Accumulating Steals, Shai’s Cat-and-Mouse Game 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 heads back home from the west coast to start a four-game homestand at Paycom Center. 

Thunder Outlasts Blazers in Portland 

In the fourth quarter, with nine seconds on the shot clock, the ball needed to be inbounded from the dead corner and of course Josh Giddey was the man the Thunder called on to do the job. The 21-year-old was putting together a stellar outing with 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting plus six rebounds and seven assists for the game but added a finishing touch with a smart and accurate pass to Jalen Williams. 

The on-time, on-target dish immediately set up a middle pick and roll between Williams and Chet Holmgren and an over-the-top alley-oop dunk for the Thunder rookie that put the Thunder ahead by nine with 2:33 to go in a 128-120 road win over the Portland Trail Blazers. It was the Thunder’s sixth wire-to-wire to win of the season, but one it had to fight for all night, as the Blazers pulled to within two points on two separate occasions in the second half only for OKC to push the lead back out. 

For the fourth straight game the Thunder racked up over 25 points off turnovers, which helped fuel a balanced offensive effort as five players scored in double figures. That included a 37-point outing by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, backed by 15 in the third quarter alone, Holmgren’s 18th double-double of the season, a 31-point barrage by Williams and a perfect 3-for-3 night from Gordon Hayward, who added 10 points and two steals in 18 critical minutes. 

With the final West Coast road trip concluded, the Thunder returns home for a challenging four-game homestand.  

Give-and-Go Action

Sometimes the best way to score the ball is to give it up first. Philosophically, that’s how the Thunder wants to operate – to not hold the ball but to keep it pinging around while bodies move around the floor. On a pair of plays on the road recently the Thunder has demonstrated the power of a classic NBA play – the give and go. Out in San Antonio it was Chet Holmgren and Isaiah Joe playing off one another, resulting in an and-one righty layup for Joe. Holmgren has been an integral playmaker for the Thunder this year at the center spot and is approaching 400 points assisted on the season. 

In Phoenix, it was one of the Thunder’s top assist guys, Josh Giddey, on the receiving end of a give and go with rookie Cason Wallace. Continuing to stretch the 10th pick in the 2023 NBA Draft’s limits, the Thunder has put Wallace into more positions to create, including an assist in Los Angeles to a guy who coached him at the NBPA’s Top 100 camp, Mike Muscala. The dish against the Suns to Giddey was right on time to propel the Australian through the middle of the lane for a righty layup from the left side of the rim.  

Wallace and Wiggins Racking up Steals

Not only has the Thunder been intentional about helping Wallace continue to develop as a playmaker, but OKC has thrown him into the fire of high-level defensive assignments with a consistent role in 20 minutes per game off the bench. In San Antonio, Wallace demonstrated his anticipatory chops again by racking up four steals against the Spurs and followed that up with three more steals against the Lakers on Monday. 

In Phoenix it was fellow wing reserve Aaron Wiggins who matched his teammates total with four steals of his own. The Thunder’s eight-point win over Phoenix was a topsy-turvy one that included many twists and turns, but Wiggins’ consistent presence as a defender was an essential aspect to the victory. He made disruptive plays on the ball and did so off the ball too, helping the Thunder to rack up 22 turnovers that led to 31 points, including a help side steal that led to a fast-break finish. 

Shai Defending Entry Passes

One of Wiggins’ most crucial plays in Phoenix came inside the final three minutes with OKC up seven when he timed up an entry pass down low to Kevin Durant and blocked the perennial All-Star’s shot at the rim. In similar fashion, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander followed up Wiggins’ effort with a pair of stops down low – a steal of an entry pass by Jusuf Nurkić intended for Durant, then with a block of his own on Durant on the next possession. 

After the game, Gilgeous-Alexander explained that he watches a ton of NBA action in his down time, so he absorbs opponents’ tendencies even while on his couch. Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault called SGA “cagey” with the way he defends entry passes. OKC has guidelines about being loaded up on the top side when defending a post-up, but Shai can bend those best practices a bit with the way he baits passers into thinking they have an open angle to make the pass. Shai demonstrated those instincts once again in Los Angeles when he swiped an entry pass during the Thunder’s early burst. 

Biyombo Saves a Bucket

The Thunder has brought in a trio of veterans over the last month – Muscala, Gordon Hayward and Bismack Biyombo. Despite their experience and relative stature in the league converging into a young and developing team, all three have done an excellent job of fitting into what the team was already doing and not forcing anything. 

Biyombo has seen some spot minutes in a handful of games so far, as Daigneault has noted that it’s his responsibility to keep the roster ready throughout the season for opportunities for extended minutes that may arise down the road. When inserted, Biyombo has played his game, providing physicality and hustle on both ends of the floor. In San Antonio, that meant sprinting back in transition defense in a three-point game in the fourth quarter to use his 7-foot-6 wingspan to blow up a would-be transition opportunity. 

Mark’s Gutsy Challenge

Restraint is perhaps one of the most important qualities in the NBA. That virtue impacts the ability for players to channel their passion and confidence into making the best play for the team and the head coach to make the best decisions for the group as well. All game long in Phoenix, it was Daigneault, the Thunder’s typically very aggressive head coach, holding onto his challenge with no certainty there’d be a moment to use it. 

Suddenly, with 2:29 to go, clenching a seven-point lead in a game that had been played in a massive 37-point window where both teams had held double-digit leads, Daigneault and the Thunder had its opportunity. Gilgeous-Alexander spun in the lane and contact occurred between him and Suns guard Grayson Allen. They knocked heads on Shai’s attack, and the initial call was not only an offensive foul, but the officials went to the monitor to see if Gilgeous-Alexander should be assessed a flagrant. The review showed that no such extra penalty should be assessed, but immediately after that ruling was made, Daigneault modestly spun his finger to signal that he wanted to challenge that an offensive foul should have been called at all. 

Daigneault’s patience, understanding of the rules and willingness to make a gutsy challenge were rewarded. The offensive foul was overturned and the Thunder was awarded two points on the shot that Gilgeous-Alexander made during his attack, giving OKC enough cushion for a 118-110 victory. 

Looking Ahead 

Friday’s home game against the Miami Heat will be aired for free over the air via antenna on Griffin Media stations, channel 52 in Oklahoma City and channel 6.3 in Tulsa. The games on Sunday and Tuesday against the Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers will be available on Bally Sports Oklahoma and next Thursday’s home clash with the Dallas Mavericks will be a nationally televised game on TNT. Follow along on our @okcthunder social accounts and stay here on the Thunder App or okcthunder.com

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