Thunder Closes Out Road Trip with Battle in Brooklyn
Date: Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021
Tip-Off Time: 5 p.m. CT
Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
After a 101-89 win over the Knicks on Friday, the Thunder have improved to 4-1 on the road this season with one game remaining in its five-game road trip. With the Thunder’s young group, the first eight games of the season haven’t come without its share of ups and downs but under the guidance of Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault, the squad as bought into the approach of staying grounded in the present moment regardless of external circumstances or adversity.
“I feel like it starts with Coach [Daigneault] and his approach to how he wants us to handle everything: win or loss, get back to square one, back to work and trying to get better,” said Thunder center Al Horford. “Our group has really taken to that. We're doing a good job of locking into the next challenge and making sure that we have good practices and we're preparing. We just had a good one [on Saturday] as well and we feel prepared going into [Sunday.]”
On Friday, the Thunder demonstrated that focus after managing a win, despite a sluggish start offensively shooting only 20.8 percent from the field and being outscored by the Knicks 24-15 in the opening frame. For the second straight game, OKC’s reserves injected the game with timely energy in the second quarter to bring the Thunder back into a single possession and jumpstart the stalling Thunder offense. That effort was spearheaded by Queens, NY native Hamidou Diallo, who dazzled in his hometown erupting for 23 points and 11 rebounds, both a season high for the third-year guard.
“It was fun to see Hami play at that level,” said Horford. “I really felt like he played controlled at his own pace. He didn't let anybody rush him, he knew when to attack in transition and get out and be aggressive.”
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led all scorers with 25 points on 3-of-3 from the 3-point line. Along with Diallo, Gilgeous-Alexander snagged double-digit rebounds (10) for his first double-double of the season while adding seven assists to his well-rounded stat line.
The group will now travel across the bridge to face the Nets in its final game of its five-game road trip.
After winning two-straight at home, the undermanned Nets come into Sunday’s game following a late-game, 115-110 loss to Memphis on Friday. In that game, Brooklyn was without its superstars in Kyrie Irving (personal reasons) and Kevin Durant (health and safety protocols) who average a combined 55.3 points per contest.
If Durant and Irving are available for Sunday’s matchup, the Thunder will be tested with an isolation-heavy offense centered around the duo. Defending such an opponent will require engagement from every defender on the floor and was a key focal point in the Thunder’s practice on Saturday.
“Anytime you face those types of players, you understand that it's a team responsibility,” said Horford. “You're not going to be able to put one person on them and expect them to defend them. We're very aware that whoever is on the floor, we're all responsible for those type of players and we have to make sure that you know we're making it tough for them and not giving them anything easy.”
On Friday, in the absence of Irving and Durant, Brooklyn guard Caris LeVert recorded 43 points which marks the second time in his career scoring 40-plus points. The fourth-year guard sank seven 3-pointers on just nine attempts and finished the night shooting a red-hot 65.2 percent from the field.
Similar to the Thunder, Brooklyn’s bench has provided consistent offensive production so far this season averaging 41.9 points per game which is good for the fifth most in the league. OKC’s bench has outscored its opponents 88-43 over the last two games spearheaded by the offensive production of Hamidou Diallo (10.5 ppg) and Mike Muscala (10.3 ppg).
Between the Thunder and Nets’ reserves, expect a high level of offensive production from both squads even after the first units have checked out of the game.
Stat to Watch
Rebounds – For the first time in two seasons, the Thunder registered a 60-plus rebounding performance on Friday. It’s an area of focus for Coach Daigneault’s group every night before a game and it starts with the execution on the defensive possession. Strong rotations and solid containment on the defensive end allow for one-on-one box outs and a better chance at carving out space to grab the rebound.
“I thought our rebounding [on Friday] was a reflection of our defense,” said Daigneault. “We kept ourselves in rotation, we were really tight with our help, we stayed five-on-five and kept them out of transition.”
In its first five-game road trip of the season, the Thunder has come away 3-1 in its first four games thanks to several statistical season-high performances. To start of the road trip in Orlando, OKC had a season-high six players record 10 or more points. Then in the Big Easy, against one of the best paint-protecting teams in the league, the Thunder took advantage and cashed in 19-made 3-pointers on the night. Finally, in New York on Friday against a Knicks team who is anchored in the paint by 7-foot Mitchell Robinson and surrounded by physical guards, the Thunder grabbed a season-high 62 rebounds.
“We're putting our best foot forward and seeing where that lands us,” said Daigneault. “The most important thing is our preparation and then our reflection. We're trying to make sure that our feedback loop individually with the players and as a team is really, really tight and that we're learning and growing. The outcomes of the games right now are kind of secondary to that process win or lose.”