Bringing Collective, 48-Minute Energy Back to OKC
Date: Thursday, April 29, 2021
Tip-Off Time: 8 p.m. CT
Television: Bally Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
After playing six of its last seven contests on the road, the Thunder returns to Chesapeake Energy Arena for a welcomed, prolonged four-game home stand. In its last game at Boston, the Thunder closed out the protracted time away from home on a high note, snapping its losing streak with a 119-115 win over the Celtics.
In a full 48-minute collective effort, OKC outlasted a relentless Boston team in the final moments behind several well-executed possessions and a string of hustle plays. Without its usual closer in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the lineup (plantar fasciitis), it was second year forward Darius Bazley who took the offensive reins in the fourth quarter as he erupted for 13 of his total 21 points.
Leading the Thunder in scoring for the night was Lu Dort who missed OKC’s previous game the night before in Philly and returned to the lineup for a team-high 24 points on Tuesday. Eleven of Dort’s 24 points came from the charity stripe as the second-year guard notched 13 free throw attempts which marked career highs in both makes and attempts from the line.
While Bazley and Dort led in scoring, it was a collective night offensively for the Thunder ,who had all 10 of its players score before ever heading into halftime. By the end of the night, the Thunder had seven players with eight or more points for the 29th time this season, including Isaiah Roby and Ty Jerome, who notched 15 points each off the bench. The balanced attack, resiliency and the determination to get to the paint were all core principles the Thunder has worked to maintain even throughout its tough adversity and injury-ridden stretch.
“We’re all taking lessons from each game, learning what we can do better,” said Roby in his postgame interview on Bally Sports. “We’re just trying to go out there every night and improve as a team and everybody contributed to this win.”
Thursday marks the third and final meeting between the Pelicans and the Thunder. Both previous matchups took place within a week of each other at the front end of the season. The Thunder dropped the first matchup handily on New Year’s Eve and then bounced back to take the second one by 10 on Jan. 6.
The Pelicans, who are teetering on postseason potential, will enter OKC on the second night of a back-to-back after facing Denver the night before. Armed with the offensive firepower of superstar Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, New Orleans’ starting five produces the fourth most points per game of any starting unit in the league. Williamson leads the Pels offensive attack with 26 points per game while also leading the league in points in the paint with 20 of his own each night.
New Orleans has found its stride offensively since April 20 as it holds the fourth best offensive rating in the league, the second-most points per game along with the third-most fast break points. Thursday’s battle will be a good test for the Thunder defense in limiting easy looks from a team with a swath of offensive weapons at its disposal both inside the paint with players like Williamson and former Thunder Steven Adams as well as behind the arc in Ingram, Ball and Eric Bledsoe who are all shooting over 40 percent from three over the last four contests.
In its last game on Tuesday, the Thunder benefitted heavily from the free throw line as it posted a 36-25 advantage on attempts over the Celtics. The wide margin was an indication of not only an assertiveness to draw contact and attack the rim by OKC, but also a strong level of defensive discipline to keep Boston away from the charity stripe.
This defensive discipline will be put to the test against New Orleans who averages the second most free throw attempts per game. Williamson and his 6-foot-6, 284-pound frame leads the Pelicans in attempts (8.6) and makes (6.0) each night. While the Pelicans convert those free throws at the second-lowest rate in the league, limiting the trips to the line will be critical in containing its offense.
Stat to Watch
Rebounds – The battle on the backboard will be one to keep an eye on between these two teams. The Thunder has jumped significantly this season in its offensive rebounding numbers where they once sat at the bottom of the league. Since the All-Star Break, OKC ranks first in offensive rebounds per night and fourth in second-chance points.
On Thursday, the Thunder will face a Pelicans team that has thrived on the offensive glass all season long behind the paint presences of Williamson and Adams. Over the same time frame, New Orleans ranks sixth in second-chance points and fourth in offensive rebounds each night.
Thunder sophomores Darius Bazley and Lu Dort have strung together multiple games for OKC where their offensive growth has shined. Both players logged four games with 20 or more points over the last five contests while shooting 44 percent or better from the field.
Over that time frame, Bazley is averaging 21.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while Dort is posting 27.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per night. There has been a noticeable jump in both Dort and Bazley’s aggression and assertiveness as they attack the basket which yields results such as Dort’s career-high free throw performance against Boston and Bazley’s fourth-quarter, 13-point outburst in the same game.