By Nick Gallo and Paris Lawson | okcthunder.com
Highlights: OKC vs. CHA
The Big Picture
Box Score: OKC vs. CHA
For most young NBA teams, six minutes can feel like an absolute blur. This Thunder team, playing in its 40th clutch-time game of the season where the score was within five points in the final five minutes, knows just how long six minutes can be despite being the second youngest team in NBA history.
For the entire first three and a half quarters the Thunder and Charlotte Hornets played this game within a tight scoring window, as every time OKC tried to pull away beyond an eight to 10 point lead the frisky Hornets had an answer. At the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarter, the Hornets got hot from the perimeter, striking after laying in wait. With a 35-13 run that spanned the quarter break, Charlotte zipped ahead and suddenly led 123-110 with 5:59 to go.
The Thunder called its final timeout, and just let its young guys play ball for the final six minutes, and the coaching staff was rewarded by seeing its players execute off of the things they learned all season long. Even without the services of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who was out with an ankle sprain, the Thunder stormed back with a 19-6 run to tie the game with 2:08 to go. It was tight for the final 128 seconds, but Charlotte scored two crucial baskets around the rim and hit its free throws late as the Thunder fell 137-134.
In the game three players - Isaiah Joe (33), Jalen Williams (31) and Josh Giddey (31) all scored 30 or more points, just the 2nd time in NBA history that three players aged 23 or younger scored 30 in the same game.
Nick: The first quarter was defined by the defense, and for the Thunder its tight shell was covering for each other and in rotation early and often. On back to back possessions OKC got a boost from the NBA’s rookie leader in steals, and the Thunder’s all-time rookie record holder in steals and blocks combined, Jalen Williams. The 21-year-old wing snared two steals in a row, the first of which led to a Josh Giddey runout layup while the second one resulted in Charlotte being forced to foul in the open floor. In the game, Williams was aggressive and physical, getting not only four steals, but getting to the free throw line nine times on his way to 31 points.
Paris: Josh Giddey used his 6-foot-8 frame to back down his defender Svi Mykhailiuk into the paint before turning around for a short jumper at the front of the rim. Just a few possessions later, Giddey spotted up on the wing as his teammates attacked the paint. After a couple of passes, the ball found Giddey behind the arc for an open catch-and-shoot 3. The second year guard showcased his ability to score in a multitude of ways – off the catch, off the bounce and off of second chances. At the end of the first quarter, Giddey racked up 11 points, five rebounds and a pair of assists. For the night, Giddey racked up a career high 31 points to go along with 10 rebounds and nine assists.
Paris: It had been 41 games since Aleksej Pokuševski last played in a game for the Thunder. The 7-footer sustained a lower leg injury that kept him on the sidelines since December 27. Though Pokuševski had been dressed and live for the past two games, he logged his first action back against the Hornets in the second quarter and wasted no time getting into the action. On his first possession in the game, Poku blocked an alley oop attempt in midair by Kai Jones and sent the Thunder out in transition. The third year forward is still on his return to performance track, but logged some quality game time against Charlotte with 10 total minutes played.
Nick: To ramp up the pace in a bogged down game, the Thunder used some select opportunities to pressure Charlotte full court. In an attempt to speed up some of the Hornets’ inexperienced ball handlers, the Thunder was able to force a rushed attack and missed shot and the result was a run-out fast break for the Thunder. Tre Mann led the break to perfection, drawing the defense but avoiding a charge then dishing off to Jeremiah Robinson-Earl for an easy layup. On the ensuing defensive possession for OKC, the Thunder once again rushed Charlotte’s guards and it was Mann who stepped into the lane and took a charge. That jolt of energy helped spark a 45-point second quarter effort for the Thunder, as defense fueled offense.
Paris: Isaiah Joe stepped into the starting lineup for the Thunder in place of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (ankle) and rose to the occasion. The guard scored at all three levels of the floor throughout the night including his patented ability to knock down triples. Joe racked up seven points in the third frame and became the second Thunder player to record 20 or more in the game – reaching 23 points heading into the final frame on 8-of-13 shooting from the field. By the end of the night, Joe notched a new career high with 33 points on 11-of-18 from the field and 6-of-11 from 3.
Nick: The Thunder had three players with 20 or more points in a game for the 11th time all season, and in addition to the aforementioned Joe, the other two were Giddey and Jalen Williams, both of whom made plays in the third quarter that are defining of their games. Giddey used an impossible to guard hesitation dribble to keep his large frame in between his defender and the ball, then once his man froze he attacked the rim for an easy bucket. Much like in the first quarter, Jalen Williams got his offense going by using his defense. Jumping out on the wing for a steal, Williams ignited a 2-on-1 fast break with Pokuševski, who dished it right back to Williams for the rookie’s second dunk of the game.
Nick: The Thunder needed a spark after falling behind by 13 points with 5:59 to go. Perhaps the biggest spark plug of them all for OKC is Lu Dort, and he intervened immediately after the Thunder’s final timeout. First he buried a catch-and-shoot 3 at the top of the key off a dish from Isaiah Joe, then he busted around a screen and drew one of his patented offensive fouls on an illegal screen. Dort’s energy on both ends of the floor helped ignite the Thunder’s 19-6 run to surge back and tie the game at 129 apiece. That burst brought the Paycom Center crowd to fever pitch, and set up the final few minutes as the Thunder and Hornets battled down to the wire.
Paris: After cashing in his first 3-pointer of the final frame, Isaiah Joe confidently stepped into a trail 3-pointer to inject some much needed life into the offense. The Thunder got a stop on the next possession and this time it was a dunk from Josh Giddey to make it a two-point game with just over two minutes remaining. A missed shot by Théo Maledon gave the Thunder a chance to tie the game on the other end and it was Jalen Williams who answered the call with a hard drive and finish at the rim. After trailing by as many as 13 points midway through the fourth, the Thunder tied the game in a matter of three minutes to give themselves a chance down the stretch of the game.
“We got a good hold on the game in the second quarter with stops and with good offense, and then I just thought, you know, they did a great job - Charlotte did - of not getting knocked out and keeping the game in striking distance… They scored 80 points in the second half and we gotta look in the mirror on that. Some of that was them. They played well. But most of that, at least from our purposes, is on us.” –Coach Daigneault
“We do a good job of not getting too high, not getting too low. We understand what's at stake and we understand that we have a game tomorrow so that's where our focus is at this moment - is getting ready for that game tomorrow.” –Isaiah Joe
The Thunder comes right back to Paycom Center to host the Detroit Pistons for the second game of this home back-to-back on Wednesday. On Thursday the team takes off for Indiana to take on the Pacers on Friday.
By Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder