Balanced Attack Heads to Cleveland to Continue Road Trip
Date: Jan. 4, 2020
Tip-Off Time: 6:30 p.m. CT
Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
Thunder StatusWinners of eight of its last nine games, the Thunder is one of the hottest teams in the NBA, rolling with momentum into the new decade. Part of the reason why is that they’ve been leaning on one another to get the job done. The Thunder has had five or more players score in double figures during 22 of its 34 total contests this season.
A balanced scoring attack will be required again against a Cleveland Cavaliers squad that doesn’t give up many free throws or second chances. “We have players who are willing to make plays all across the board,” Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said. “We all have confidence in each other so making plays down the stretch isn’t an issue for us.”
Opponent BreakdownThe Cavaliers have two of just 12 NBA players who are averaging a double-double so far this season. Kevin Love (16.6 points and 10.5 rebounds) and Tristan Thompson (12.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, including 4.0 offensive rebounds) will provide a tough physical presence inside that can produce scoring down low around the rim. The Cavaliers have not been a prolific offense so far this season, but have been better at home than on the road so far this season, so the Thunder will have to be sharp to come away with another win.
“Our intensity and sticking with the game plan,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “We know if we do those two things that we can get stops against any team in the league and it doesn’t matter who it is.”
Matchup FocusIt’ll be a battle between the guards in this game, with Gilgeous-Alexander and Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton both cracking the top 5 in scoring amongst rookie and sophomore players. Gilgeous-Alexander is racking up 19.9 points per contest on 45.5 percent shooting so far this year, third among first-or-second year players, while Sexton is piling up 18.1 points on 45.1 percent shooting.
Gilgeous-Alexander has been fantastic of late, having learned from some November challenges to surge again in December and the start of 2020. He’s been at his best when it has mattered most, shooting 71.0 percent from the field during fourth quarters over the last three weeks.
“Obviously it’s an ups-and-downs game, you might not make every shot. Just trusting my work and being confident is what I’m focused on,” Gilgeous-Alexander said.
Stat to Watch50.5 Percent - In the second halves of the last nine games, the Thunder has shot 50.5 percent from the field, including 35.9 percent from three, and has scored 57.6 points on average. Coming out of the locker room and taking charge in the second half has helped propel the Thunder to nine victories since the start of December in games that came within five points, and then a six-point victory on Thursday at San Antonio.
In crunch time, Donovan has deployed his three point guard lineup to great effect, alongside Steven Adams and either Danilo Gallinari or Terrance Ferguson. With the playmaking that Gilgeous-Alexander, Chris Paul and Dennis Schröder provide, there are always angles to the lane for this OKC squad.
“We have so many weapons on the court towards the end of the game that teams can’t really load up,” Gilgeous-Alexander explained. “They can’t take certain things away from us because it leads to other things from us. We’ve been in that situation a lot this year and we’re just getting better at it.”
Thunder TrendAfter shooting 38.7 percent from the 3-point line, and averaging 5.5 points on 44.0 percent shooting overall, 19-year-old rookie forward Darius Bazley saw a dip in his shooting efficiency in December. Over the past couple weeks, though, there’s been a renewed energy in the youngster’s game.
He’s snaring rebounds with excellent lift and ferocity and on offense he isn’t idling in the corners waiting only for catch-and-shoot threes. Instead, Bazley has wisely taken advantage of opportunities to attack off the dribble, using his length and quickness to finish around the rim. On Thursday, Bazley had nine points on 4-for-6 shooting to go with three rebounds, one steal with only one foul in 12 minutes, in a challenging road environment against the Spurs.
“I’m just kind of taking what the defense gives me and just knowing what your feeling, your instinct,” Bazley said. “It helps with Coach Donovan breaking down individual film with me and kind of telling me that the drives are there as well as the 3-point shot. It’s beneficial to me and the team.”
“It’s all new. I’m glad that I’m with this team because I’m getting a chance to see everything and experience everything,” Bazley added.