OKC’s Four-Game Road Trip Starts in Windy City
Date: Tuesday, March 16, 2021
Tip-Off Time: 7 p.m. CT
Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
After a three-game homestand to open up the second half of the season, the Thunder hits the road for a four-game road trip. On Sunday afternoon, however, the Thunder capped off its homestand with a come-from-behind win over the Grizzles where OKC trailed by as many as 12 points.
The comeback required a collective team effort where seven players scored in double figures for the Thunder. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the way with a game-high 30 points and rookie Aleksej Pokuševski had a career night with 23 points, 10 rebounds and five 3-pointers. The stat line marked a litany of superlatives for the 19 year old, including his first career double-double and becoming the third rookie in OKC history to record a 20-10 double-double.
Along with Pokuševski, the Thunder received massive contributions from its young players who had spent a large portion of the season with the OKC Blue in the G League Bubble in Orlando. Two-way center Moses Brown and second-year guard Ty Jerome both recorded their first career starts on Wednesday and both recorded double figures. For Brown, his 13 points gave him his third straight game where he notched a new career high. For Jerome, his 12 points, six rebounds and five assists gave him his second consecutive 10-5-5 game after not recording a single stat line of the sort throughout his entire career.
Regardless of the outcome, the Thunder entered into the game with an exploratory mindset in the hopes of learning something new about its roster while allowing its young players the opportunity to log extremely valuable, prolonged minutes against a tough opponent. Along the way, the Thunder demonstrated its resilience and competitive spirit to overcome a 12-point deficit and walk away as victors.
“We're a team that's relentless, no matter what's going on,” said Gilgeous-Alexander after the game. “We have guys that know how to play the right way and at all times when we step on a court we're going to do so. That allowed us to get back in the game.”
While the Thunder mounted its fifth-largest comeback win of the season on Sunday against Memphis, the largest comeback of the year took place on Jan. 15 against the Bulls where the Thunder overcame a 22-point deficit to win the game in overtime. In that game, the Bulls were led by Zach LaVine who recorded 35 points whole shooting a scorching 57.9 percent from the field and 57.1 from the 3-point line, cashing in eight 3-pointers.
LaVine leads the Bulls in scoring with 28.1 points a night, but as Chicago has shaken up its starting lineup, it has benefitted from offense by committee as of late. In its win over the Raptors on Sunday, Chicago had nine players score in double figures which marked the first time in 50 years when the Bulls had accomplished such a feat. LaVine registered just 15 points which marks his second-lowest scoring outing of the season. Instead, it was rookie forward Patrick Williams who led the way with 22 points – his 36 starts this season leads all rookies in that category.
The last time the Thunder faced the Bulls, the game came down to the wire. It was the Thunder’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who led the way offensively with a critical and-one layup to tie the game with just seconds remaining. When it comes to clutch performances this season, the Thunder and the Bulls tout two of the top performers in the league in Gilgeous-Alexander and Zach LaVine. SGA’s 71 points in the clutch put him at ninth in the league while LaVine holds the number two spot with 107.
If Tuesday’s matchup plays out at all like the first this season, be on the lookout for the efforts between Gilgeous-Alexander and LaVine in the clutch.
Stat to Watch
Three-point Percentage — Fresh off of its incredible 51.6 percent 3-point shooting performance, the Thunder now goes up against a Bulls team who ranks third in the league in opponent 3-point percentage. In fact, the Bulls have recorded the most games this season where they’ve held their opponent to under 30.0 percent shooting from behind the arc.
The Thunder also hangs its hat on its sturdy 3-point defense as it ranks fifth in opponent 3-point shooting percentage and with 10 games this season holding its opponent to under 30 percent shooting, it is tied for third in the league in that area.
Sunday’s 12-point comeback win for the Thunder marked the 10th double-digit comeback win of the season. The relentless mindset of each player in the OKC locker room is an indication of the competitive culture that prides itself on its resilience.
Interestingly enough, two of the six largest comebacks in Thunder history came against Chicago over its last three meetings. In those games, the Thunder won all three contests while averaging a point differential of just plus-2.3 points while shooting nearly identical numbers from the field.