For the second straight game, the Thunder forced a contest that went down to the wire. Thirteen lead changes, a career scoring night for Lu Dort and another last-second effort at the buzzer made for an exciting home opener.
It was largely back and forth for the Thunder and the Jazz in OKC’s home opener. Mini runs by both teams continued throughout 48 minutes and would ultimately be decided, once again, in the final seconds.
The Thunder got out to a hot start shooting the ball. The squad went a perfect 4-of-4 from behind the arc before missing its first 3-pointer of the game. This, coupled with strong defensive performances from the group led to an early 17-5 Thunder lead.
“We just want to find good shots. We want to attack, and once we attack, we want to find the right shot,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “Obviously, those shots were available to us. I thought we obviously took a lot of 3s tonight, but those were good shots for us.”
Defensively, the Thunder showed extreme discipline in the first half on the Jazz’s leading scorers. Donovan Mitchell held to a mere five and six points in the first half leaving Mike Conley to carry the brunt of the load offensively with 11 points. For the Thunder, it was Al Horford and Lu Dort pacing the Thunder with 11 and 13 points respectively.
“The effort was outstanding. Lu Dort I feel like set the tone really early with the way that he was defending Donovan [Mitchell] and it was kind of contagious down the line,” said Horford. “Everyone was very aware, really trying to make it tough on all their guys and I felt like that effort and that intensity was there all night. I'm definitely proud of those guys and the way that they competed.”
It wasn’t until the third quarter that Bogdanović found his stroke. After starting the game 0-for-3 from behind the arc, Utah’s sharpshooter cashed in on a perfect 4-for-4 from deep to help put the Jazz back on top. Meanwhile, the Thunder stayed in the game with the help of 11 third-quarter points from George Hill and seven steals from the Thunder defense to keep the pressure on Utah’s offense.
Neither team led by double-digits at any point in the fourth quarter. The game’s momentum swayed back and forth as each team answered a bucket with a bucket. Mitchell caught fire late with 16 points in the final stanza, and the Thunder found itself for the second-straight time in a one-possession game with two minutes left on the clock and a valuable clutch-time situation.
“This is the reality of a competitive league,” said Daigneault. “Both teams competed tonight. I was really pleased with how our team competed. We competed all the way through for 48 minutes, and when you do that against a good team like Utah, it can go either way.”
After Lu Dort drained his fifth 3-pointer of the night to give the Thunder a one-point advantage, Utah head coach Quin Snyder called a timeout to draw up a play with 14.5 seconds left on the clock. In the final play, Mitchell drove the left side of the lane, got one step ahead of a disciplined Dort and banked it in off the glass with his right hand.
Coach Daigneault immediately called a timeout to advance the ball and draw up his second consecutive game-winning play in with 7 seconds left in the game. The play was designed with multiple options to attack depending on what Utah decided to take away.
Al Horford caught the inbounds pass and dropped it off to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the second option on the play, who attacked the right side of the lane, laid the ball up off the glass with his patented scoop and fell to the ground as the buzzer sounded and the ball fell just shy of falling through the cylinder.
Play of the Game
To close out the third quarter, the Thunder put on a patented display of scrappy, fight-to-the-finish defense. Utah trailed by one point after a 3-pointer by rookie, Théo Maledon put the Thunder ahead. The Jazz looked to grasp some momentum heading into the fourth with only 30 seconds left on the clock. The Thunder had other ideas.
A scuffle of active hands and quick feet sent the ball in a flurry of directions before Maledon emerged with a steal. The ball was kicked ahead to Gilgeous-Alexander who dropped it off to Hamidou Diallo for the easy slam and a critical wave of momentum heading into the final stanza.
Stat of the Night26
Just as he set the tone for the Thunder defensively in the matchup, the Thunder’s second-year guard led the team and all scorers in points tonight. The Montreal native set a new career high with 26 points on 5-of-7 from the 3-point line and 9-of-11 from the field.
“He shot it with confidence tonight,” said Daigneault. “I also think that he had some good drives on some heads-up plays where he was on the ball a little bit and just continuing to expand on his game from an offensive standpoint, but he played the right way, took the right shots tonight.”
“It felt good,” said Dort on seeing his shots fall. “I’ve just got to stay confident with it and keep shooting.”
Quotes of the Night
“We play to win. I think that's Oklahoma City basketball. The city knows that there's only one way and that's to play the right way and play hard on both ends of the floor, no matter win or loss. We represent this city and this city represents us so we're going to go out and lay it out on the line every night and try to make this city proud.” –George Hill “We were competitive tonight. We took challenges personally defensively. We gave ourselves a chance to win at the end of the game. Obviously, you come up short sometimes and don’t make enough plays, but I’m proud of the way we fought tonight.” –Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
It will be a quick turnaround for the Thunder who will host Orlando on Tuesday in the second night of its back-to-back. To close out the year, the Thunder will wrap up its 3-game homestand with a New Year’s Eve matchup against New Orleans on Thursday.