Hosting the Hawks at Home
Date: Friday, Feb. 26, 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
In the midst of one of the most demanding stretches in this condensed 72-game schedule, the Thunder posted its most thrilling win of the season. For 47 minutes, it was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander putting on an offensive exhibition as he finished the game with a career-high 42 points. His performance marked the first 40-point game by any Thunder player in two seasons and became just one of five Thunder players to ever surpass the milestone.
The third-year guard scored in a multitude of ways – getting to the rim on drives, stepping back for 3-pointers (6-11) and getting to the free throw line (10-11). However, Gilgeous-Alexander’s ability to facilitate the offense down the stretch really opened things up for his teammates to knock down critical shots in the final moments.
“The thing that's been most impressive has been how he's matured as a game manager and how he's finding a balance between his own offense and helping the team function,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “Even with an explosion of points, he continued to do that and he didn't get seduced by the points on the board he just continued to make the right play.”
While SGA shined in the scoring column, it was Lu Dort who was at the bottom of the dogpile on Wednesday. The sophomore guard knocked down the game-winning buzzer beater and fell to the floor as the ball dropped through the rim. It was Dort’s third 3-pointer of the quarter and his 16th point of the night.
The Thunder’s win marked the eighth win this season for the team after trailing by 10 or more points. Furthermore, it handed the Spurs its first loss of the year after leading by 10 points or more.
“We just stayed the course and we supported each other,” said Thunder center Mike Muscala. “We were there for each other we supported each other. I think then towards the end of the game that paid dividends.”
The Thunder now welcome the Hawks to Chesapeake Energy Arena, who are also coming off of a sizzling performance on Wednesday in the second night of a back-to-back. It was the outside shooting of former Thunder player and sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari that gave the Hawks the biggest boost on Wednesday to down the Celtics 127-112. The 6-foot-10 forward cashed in on a Hawks franchise-record 10 made 3-pointers that led to a team-high 38 points.
The Hawk’s leading scorer in Trae Young also chipped in 33 points on 12-of-23 shooting from the field. Young averages 27.2 points and 9.5 assists per contest putting him in exclusive company as one of only four players in the league to rank in the top 10 in points and assists. While Young is the head of the Hawks' offense, his connections with forward John Collins and center Clint Capela rank among the best in the league. Young has assisted 79 of Collins’ buckets this season and 70 of Capela’s which marks the second and third highest connections between any duos in the league.
When it comes to third-year players, two of the top three scorers in the league will be on the floor on Friday. Atlanta’s Trae Young and OKC’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander rank second and third, respectively, among third-year players in points per contest. As the offensive leaders for their respective guards, the two are also in the top three in assists per game, free throws attempted and made. Look for an offensive battle between the two burgeoning stars on Friday.
“Obviously [Young is a] really confident player that plays with a lot of freedom and is incredibly skilled,” said Daigneault. “They're a team that's got a lot of firepower and he's the head of that snake, which is a great opportunity for us to continue to test ourselves against the player like him and against the team like Atlanta.”
sending good vibes from practice today pic.twitter.com/r8SbNYGqBo— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) February 25, 2021
Stat to Watch
Free Throw Attempts — The free throw line will play a key role in Friday’s matchup as Atlanta leads the NBA in free throws per game and gets a league-high 18.8 percent of its points from the charity stripe. Throughout the season, the Thunder has been able to keep its opponents off the free throw line consistently to the point where OKC holds its opponents to the third-fewest free throws per game. Limiting Atlanta on Friday will mean taking away as many free looks from the foul line.
While the eye-popping offensive performances of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort made headlines on Wednesday, but the Thunder defense subtly played a critical role in its win. By holding the Spurs to just 99 points, OKC marked its seventh time this season that it held its opponent to under 100 points. The Thunder’s connected five-man defense allowed just 45 points in the first half and forced the low-mistake Spurs team to cough up 22 points off of its turnovers.
“It’s who we've been for a little period of time now,” said Daigneault. “We've had some really good defensive games in this last stretch of games and so we just continued that. You’ve got to earn it every night and I give our guys credit that they went out and earned it [on Wednesday].”
“Recently we've been very connected more so than the beginning of the year,” said Mike Muscala. “It's a tough league. There are great players so the more connected you are on defense when you're helping each other, it's a sign of a good defense.”