Thunder Earns Road Win by Committee
Game Recap: Thunder 125, Trail Blazers 122
After a pair of slow starts in Los Angeles, the Thunder burst out of the gates with offensive fervor against the Trail Blazers. Behind a collective effort from all 10 players to touch the floor, OKC picked up the first win in its long road trip.
Late in the third quarter, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander decisively attacked the paint drawing the attention of several Portland defenders. Suddenly the ball broke free from Gilgeous-Alexander’s grip sending it careening in the air. Oddly enough, the ball grazed the middle of the square on the way down and fell through the cylinder, baffling all those who witnessed it… even Shai. “I honestly don’t know what happened,” Gilgeous-Alexander admitted after the game. “I don’t know if someone hit it and it hit off my hand and it went in, but I’ll take the two points.”
It was that kind of scoring night for the Thunder on Monday – the shots were falling.
In its two games against the Clippers over the weekend, the Thunder combined for 0-for-12 from the 3-point line in each first quarter. On Monday, it was OKC who threw the first punch offensively putting up 34 points with six-made 3s. Darius Bazley led the way early with 10 first quarter points scoring in a myriad of ways: behind the arc, in transition and at the rim.
“We talk about as a team, coming out from the first minute, being ready to play and coming out with energy and effort” said Bazley in his walk-off interview with FOX Sports Oklahoma. “I just tried to come out and give everything I had from the jump.”
Bazley’s teammates mirrored the effort as the group erupted for a season-high 69 points in the first half while shooting a blistering 57 percent from the 3-point line and 53 percent from the field. OKC worked to push the ball in transition to get ahead of the defense, then in the half court make the extra pass to the open shooter.
Thunder center Mike Muscala was the recipient of several of those drive and kick opportunities and capitalized on the possessions. By the end of the half, the seventh-year center cashed in 16 first quarter points off of 5-of-7 from the 3-point line.
“His shots were a reflection of the way the ball moved and the way those guys played. We just kept the ball ahead of the defense tonight. Those guys didn't care who got the shot, all they cared about was finding the right one,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “That's something that we tried to address coming in and they carried it over. I thought Mike was a recipient of that mindset.”
Bazley, Roby, SGA each with 10 pts. Musky 16 (5 treys) pic.twitter.com/RjmASgphQf— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 26, 2021
Meanwhile the Blazers struggled to find their rhythm early on in part due to the activity on the defensive end by OKC. Portland’s leading scorer in Damian Lillard cashed in just one 3-pointer in the first half and although he logged 12 points, it was Carmelo Anthony who led the way for the group with 13 points. It wasn’t until the third quarter that the Blazers would string together enough plays to go on a strong 11-3 run. Going into the fourth quarter, they only trailed three points.
Both teams each scored 31 points in the final frame, indicative of the blow-for-blow battle that the quarter resembled. OKC opened up the stanza with a run from the second unit to help bolster lead that would grow to as many as 11 points with just under three minutes left to play.
Portland responded with an 11-2 run however, to give themselves a chance late in the game. It was all thanks to a flurry of buckets by Anthony and Lillard and a few critical offensive rebounds by Enes Kanter who finished the night with a game-high seven offensive boards.
In the final 31 seconds, Portland would have multiple opportunities to tie the game, but ultimately fell short. A deep 3-point attempt from Lillard with 31 seconds left that could have brought the game to a single possession was originally called a foul but overturned after a successful challenge from Coach Daigneault.
Then after OKC left the door open at the free-throw line, Lillard cashed in a highly contested, step back 3-pointer with less than five seconds remaining to bring the game to three points. The Thunder pushed the lead to four points at the free throw line, but Lillard again answered with a fadeaway bucket on the opposite end to keep the Blazers alive.
The Blazers would simply run out of time as the Thunder finished the game at the foul line and outlasted Portland in the second night of a back-to-back.
“I think it shows that we have a lot of guys who are level-headed,” said Roby. “I know we didn’t finish the way we wanted to, we kind of had a bigger lead throughout the game but pulling out a win against any team is a great night.”
Play of the Game
Of Mike Muscala’s 23 points, perhaps the two his teammates enjoyed most came from inside the 3-point line. Midway through the fourth quarter, the 6-foot-10 forward passed up a contested look from the corner and chose to attack the smaller Gary Trent Jr. guarding him.
Muscala took a couple dribbles to the middle of the floor before spinning baseline and fading off of one foot for a picturesque mid-range jumper. On the bench, Musky’s teammates jumped with pride.
“Musky was great tonight,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “When he shoots it the way he shoots it, it’s hard for any team to guard us.”
ALWAYS HOOPING— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 26, 2021
Witness the work of Kenrich Williams and Mike Muscala.
Stat of the Night53
With Théo Maledon inserted into the Thunder’s starting lineup in place of George Hill (right thumb sprain), Coach Daigneault was curious before the game to see how his second unit would respond to the shake-up.
The bench answered by outscoring Portland’s reserves 53-34 with the help of a burst of offensive pace from Hamidou Diallo, a team-high four offensive rebounds from Kenrich Williams and an incredible shooting performance of Muscala who knocked down a career-high six 3-pointers on the way to a season-high 23 points on 66-percent shooting.
“It's just a tribute to their readiness and their willingness to connect to the team and have the whole be better than the sum of the parts,” said Daigneault.
Quotes of the Night
“I just liked the fact that we kept going and no matter what, we just kept coming at them…We knew it wasn’t going to be perfect, but for the most part we got the job done.”
“Top to bottom, I thought our energy, competitiveness, pace, and the thrust we played with was sustained throughout the game and we got it one through 10. Everybody that touched the court tonight brought that type of edge. Obviously, really, really happy with the way we played.” –Coach Daigneault
OKC will head to Phoenix on Tuesday for the final leg of its long road trip. OKC will take on the Suns at 8 p.m. CT on Wednesday before returning to Chesapeake Energy Arena on Friday to host the Brooklyn Nets.