Back Home for Second Go Against Wizards
Date: Friday, April 23, 2021
Tip-Off Time: 7 p.m. CT
Television: Bally Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
After a week-long trek through the Eastern Conference, the Thunder will return home for one game before setting out on another three-game road trip. While the stretch was demanding, the resilient Thunder, rooted in its process of feedback and development, strung together multiple competitively fought games including a pair of six-point losses against Detroit and Toronto, a hard-fought battle with the Wizards and a nail-biting finish against Indiana on Wednesday.
The Thunder endured a wild game of runs against a depleted Pacers team and put itself in yet another clutch-time situation. With less than a minute to go and down seven points, the Thunder microwaved five points in a matter of five seconds to make it a one-possession game. However, made free throws from Pacers leading scorer Malcolm Brogdon left the Thunder unable to get over the hump.
Thunder forward Darius Bazley led the team in scoring with his second-consecutive, career-high-tying 26-point effort on Wednesday. The Cincinnati native carried over his aggressive offensive attack from Monday’s matchup with Washington and played with force against the Pacers by consistently attacking the paint and hunting opportunities at the rim.
“He’s now strung together four or five games where he’s really done that. Clearly, he’s made a jump there and he’s playing with that kind of mindset,” said Daigneault. “He’s getting to his spots and getting really, really good plays in there – getting to the line. He’s doing some really, really good things. He’s progressing.”
The Thunder will book-end the workweek with matchups against the Wizards. In its first meeting with Washington on Monday, OKC was on the doorstep of a victory after rallying back from double-digit deficits in both the first and second halves. Rookie Théo Maledon helped spark a massive 24-9 Thunder run to bring the game down to one point in the first half, but it was Bazley who scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to bring the game back to just two points before Washington pulled away to win 119-107.
Headlining the Wizards’ attack on Monday was three-time All Star Bradley Beal, who registered a game-high 30 points which is right on par with his season average of 31.0 points per night. Alongside his back court mate of Russell Westbrook, the duo combines for the most points per game of any pair in the league. Westbrook, while only logging 13 points on Monday, his 11 rebounds and 17 assists gave him his 26th triple double of the season which he followed up on Wednesday against the Warriors with a 14-point, 10-assist, 20-rebound performance. Off the bench, the Wizards tout sharp-shooter Davis Bertans who entered into the game against the Thunder on Monday and knocked down six 3-pointers en route to a 21-point performance.
After defeating the Warriors on Wednesday, the Wizards will enter Oklahoma City on the hunt for its seventh straight victory and its ninth win in 10 games.
Spring In Their Step@Nickgallo22 and @Paris_Two_Three break down the career-high performances of Luguentz Dort, Darius Bazley and Aleksej Pokuševski.— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) April 21, 2021
Apple | https://t.co/TOyG0XTXE8
Spotify | https://t.co/GLsmwvgfT0 pic.twitter.com/07p4dwuUKb
Without defensive go-to Luguentz Dort in the lineup over the past two games, the Thunder has given Bazley the opportunity to log minutes against the league’s best playmakers. It was Bazley, on Monday, who was tasked with the Westbrook assignment, going minute for minute with the nine-time All Star. Bazley has relished the opportunities to sharpen his blade against high-usage, high-volume players and will have valuable, recent film to use and study in preparation for Friday’s rematch with the Wizards.
“I'm experiencing a lot just being able to guard really good guys,” said Bazley. “It's been really good to just take on those challenges. After games like this, just watching film with my coach, and just seeing areas where I could grow. Just seeing some things that maybe I can carry over that we're trying to work on as a team.”
Stat to Watch
Points in the Paint — In its game on Wednesday, the Thunder tied an OKC record with 76 points in the paint. Going up against a depleted Pacers frontline, the Thunder looked to capitalize on its size advantage and attack the rim. On Friday, OKC will face a Washington team who ranks sixth in the league in points in the paint and will look to generate offense the same way. In its first meeting, Washington outscored the Thunder 58-36 in paint points.
Between the paint-hunting drives of Washington’s backcourt and the aggressive attack of the Thunder’s perimeter players, expect a battle of paint production on Friday night.
Following a big loss to the Warriors last week on the second night of a back-to-back, the Thunder responded with four consecutive hard-fought battles on the road that went down to the final minutes. The games were a result of the Thunder playing to its identity of competing for a full 48 minutes. In each contest which the Thunder dropped by an average of 7.5 points, the Thunder earns another lesson in late-game execution which Coach Daigneault often points out is an entirely different animal than the 43 minutes that precede it.
“It's an execution game at that point,” said Daigneault following Wednesday’s loss to the Pacers. “It's hard to win these games and so we just need to be better while maintaining the competitive spirit and the togetherness that we're playing with, because we are doing those things. That's why we're in these games. It's just going to take a little bit more execution to get over the hump.”