Thunder Faces Red-Hot Suns in Second Half of Back-to-Back
Date: Aug. 10, 2020
Tip-Off Time: 1:30 p.m. CT
Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
The Thunder were without Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel in their Sunday matinee matchup against the Washington Wizards. Coach Donovan and Co. took what seemed like an adverse situation and used it to their advantage.
Mike Muscala started in the place of Adams and the pick-and-pop specialist delivered in the first five minutes of the game. Muscala drained three 3-pointers after sitting out of the team’s previous two games while going through NBA concussion protocol.
The Thunder looked to spread the floor and move the ball against the match-up zone that Washington presented. After Muscala’s early production from behind the arc, the floodgates opened for the Thunder who finished with a season-high-tying 18 threes while shooting an impressive 46.2 percent from behind the arc.
Contributing greatly to the Thunder’s scorching performance on Sunday, was rookie Darius Bazley who put up a career-high and game-high 23 points and became the youngest reserve in Thunder history to score over 20 points. The lefty connected on 5-of-8 attempts from downtown and wrangled in seven rebounds. Without Adams and Noel, the 6-foot-8 rookie saw significant minutes as the Thunder’s lone big man in the paint and demonstrated his versatility as not just a scorer, but a defender.
“I think he shot the ball better tonight he took better shots. He really had a nice combination of when to shot fake and drive it, and then obviously went to take the three,” said Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan. “He had a really, really good first half on both ends of the floor.”
In its one and only back to back in Orlando, the Thunder face two drastically different opponents. On Sunday, the squad took on the winless Washington Wizards with no statistical playoff potential and then on Monday, OKC will turn around face the only undefeated team in the entire NBA campus in the Phoenix Suns.
Phoenix, who barely made the threshold to qualify into Orlando as a 13-seed, now holds the 10th spot in the standings and is only half a game from a play-in game to advance to the post season. Behind the offensive firepower of both Devin Booker (26.4 pgg) and Deandre Ayton (18.9 ppg, 11.7 rpg), the Suns have won its last five contests.
“Obviously, they’re playing really well,” Muscala said. “They’re the only undefeated team in the bubble. Monty Williams has done a great job there, so they’re going to be tough but we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Keep an eye out on the dueling backcourts between the Suns and the Thunder. Phoenix’s backcourt duo of Ricky Rubio and Devin Booker combine for nearly 40 points per contest and 15 assists. They both play a vital role in the Suns’ leading mark in assists per contest.
On the flip side, the duo of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Chris Paul put up an average of nearly 37 points per contest while dishing out just over 10 assists. In the absence of Dennis Schröder who is away from the team for the birth of his second child, SGA’s minutes at the point guard spot have seen a tremendous uptick. In the Thunder’s last game against the Wizards, Gilgeous-Alexander doled out seven assists– over three times his season average.
Stat to Watch
The Thunder and Phoenix hold the first and second spots in the NBA’s campus on opponent 3-point shooting percentage. The Thunder sit atop the list after holding each of its opponents to only single-digit makes from behind the arc and an average of a 25.0-percent clip. Phoenix trails right behind OKC at the No. 2 spot by holding its opponents to only 29.3 percent from deep. After the sharp-shooting performance from the Thunder against the Wizards on Friday, keep an eye out on how the Suns defend the 3-point line and where the Thunder look to generate their offense.
Monday’s matchup marks the Thunder’s one and only back-to-back of the NBA restart. So far this season, OKC has a record of 6-4 on the second night of back-to-backs and average 108.9 points on 46.9 percent from the field. After the high-energy performance from OKC on Sunday, look for Coach Donovan’s squad to bring that same level of effort and energy to its matchup with the Suns.