Finding the Balance: Thunder Shows Up on Both Ends to Start Home Stand – OKC 109, CHA 104

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Digital Reporter | mailbag@okcthunder.com

It was equal parts yin and yang for the Thunder. First there was the stoic Paul George knocking down a missile of a pass that was heading into the first row, then pump-faking and side-stepping for a knockdown corner three-pointer as the shot clock trickled down to nothing. A few possessions later, there was Russell Westbrook accepting a swing-swing pass on the wing, attacking a closing defender with his left hand going middle before rising up, getting clobbered and tossing a floater in off the backboard, plus the foul. Two three-point plays, two different ways.

“I just shot it how I shoot any other shot honestly. There was no rush to it,” explained George. “I felt like I was open after (Charlotte Hornets guard) Jeremy (Lamb) flew by. I just let it go.”

“When guys are running at me, it’s tough for them just to be able to stay in front,” Westbrook noted. “I use it to my advantage.”

Both of those buckets were critical to the final outcome, as the Thunder gutted it out for a 109-104 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on the front half of a home-home back to back, even without the services of Terrance Ferguson, Hamidou Diallo and the still-returning-to-form Alex Abrines.

With all of the injuries on the wing the Thunder was in need of a shot in the arm and it sure did get it from rookie Deonte Burton. A hybrid power forward who is on a two-way contract, Burton turned some heads in Summer League and during training camp before enjoying a full coming out party tonight at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

With a quick first step and a huge bounce, the lefty powered home two massive one-handed jams while also scoring on a three-point play under the rim and with a catch-and-shoot wing three. Shattering any previous career-highs, Burton scored all 11 of his points in the first half alone, and also picked up 2 rebounds and 2 assists in his 21 minutes while also playing his role within the Thunder’s tough defensive unit that held Charlotte to just 6-of-31 three-point shooting on the night.  

“We trusted each other. When someone made a call, we trusted the call,” said Burton. “Trust is what helped us win… It just shows what type of people they are. It doesn’t matter what the contract says, they believe in the person.”

“It was really challenging because they come off of a lot of pick-and-rolls and split actions and that’s hard to guard throughout the whole game,” explained Burton.

Burton was a boost, but he wasn’t on the floor to close the game, when the starters strung together some stops and Westbrook and George knocked home those clutch buckets. Donovan’s club wasn’t completely out of the woods yet though. It’s six-point lead with 1:49 to go was cut to just one at 105-104 with 37.9 remaining after a series of unfortunate events, including a potential travel by Charlotte’s Cody Zeller before the ball ended up in his teammate Marvin Williams’ hand for a three-pointer. On the next possession, Westbrook drove left and was stripped but the call was that it went out on the Thunder point guard. The offense had carried the group all night, but it was time for the defense to lock in and finish it off. 

Paul George had been a one-man wrecking crew for large portions of the fourth quarter - managing to guard the ball handler and another man while both were at the three-point line to deter a jumper then later blowing up a Zeller roll to the rim to force a missed shot. In the final moments, however, George and his teammates were in sync to put together a pair of stops by forcing misses from behind the arc by Williams and the ever-dangerous Kemba Walker. Steven Adams and Jerami Grant each had an outstretched arm in the face of the Hornets All-Star and Westbrook cleaned up both misses with soaring rebounds. 

Highlights: Thunder vs. Hornets

“That’s what we do,” said Westbrook. “That’s what I’ve been saying since Day One, that we defend and that’s what we count on.”

Westbrook knocked down four-straight free throws to end the game and to finish off the night with 30 points on 10-of-18 shooting 12 rebounds and 8 assists.

“Personnel changes every year. You gotta do more, you gotta do less. I’m a basketball player, and I do everything. I can play off the ball, on the ball, whatever, defend. It doesn’t matter. As long as I’m on the floor I can make something happen.”

It was a balanced attack, however, with six players in double figures including 23 for Dennis Schröder, 19 for Paul George, 13 for Steven Adams and 11 for Jerami Grant. The victory was an impressive one given the hectic nature of the schedule and the injury report, and it’s the Thunder’s 12th win in the last 14 games, vaulting the team into a four-way tie for first place in the Western Conference.

“We trust everybody. Defensively is where we gotta be locked in. We hang our hat on playing defense,” said George. “Offensively we just let the ball find whoever and we play off one another.”

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