The Big Picture
Just 48 hours following its previous matchup with Houston, the Thunder turned around to face the Rockets again, this time inside of Paycom Center. OKC led for the first 43 minutes of the ball game before Houston turned the tides behind a series of timely buckets and a dry spell offensively from Oklahoma City. It was a lesson in a 48-minute mentality that the Thunder will have the opportunity to apply quickly on the second night of its back-to-back in Memphis.
Moments from the 48
Paint Presence After a slow shooting night in Houston on Monday, the Thunder worked to establish a paint presence from the outset on Wednesday. OKC’s guards hunted paint touches and looked to make quick decisions on their drives that generated looks at the basket or beyond the arc.
For the night, OKC outscored Houston 62 to 50 in paint points and shot at an efficient 63 percent clip in the lane. The league leader in drives per game Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the way in this department as he generated 22 of his 39 points in the painted area.
“When we can touch the paint and make good decisions from there, we’re hard to guard,” said Thunder guard Ty Jerome. “We have one of the most dynamic playmakers in Shai and he draws so much attention. When he’s going like that, he draws a lot of attention so we can play off him, attack closeouts and make shots.”
Season-Highs for SGA Gilgeous-Alexander led all scorers with a season-high 39 points including an 11-point effort in the final frame. In addition to the season-high in scoring, the fourth-year guard also racked up a career high in free throw attempts as he went 14-of-16 from the charity stripe.
“It was a really good offensive outing for him,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “He had a good balance of getting off it early, attacking the side of the switch and also in his isos driving the ball, getting to the paint and he got to the line a ton tonight.”
“I just wanted to be aggressive,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “Try to get to my spots, shoot where I could shoot, pass where I could pass. I just tried to be aggressive and play downhill.”
Different Looking Lineup Playing without rookie Josh Giddey (flu) in the starting lineup, fellow rookie Tre Mann stepped into his first ever NBA start. On the heels of his career-high 17-point performance on Monday, Mann logged 11 points on Wednesday. Off the bench, the Thunder received a lift from Ty Jerome who added 11 points of his own on an efficient 5-of-7 shooting from the field.The Final Frame The Thunder’s offense found a strong rhythm early on leading by as many as 15 points in the contest. In the opening six minutes, all five starters had scored and at one point, the Thunder had as many paint points as Houston’s total points. Guards took advantage of Houston’s switching defense, attacking the paint hard on pick and rolls and quickly making shoot-pass decisions once in the lane.
“We were playing together. We're downhill,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “Just being aggressive as a unit. Everyone was trying make the right play and aggressive and good things were happening.”
It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that Houston’s offense threw its biggest punch. Behind the efforts of Jae’Sean Tate and Armoni Brooks who combined for 23 points in the fourth quarter, the Rockets offense posted 41 points in the final frame to put pressure on the Thunder with minutes left to play. After losing its lead, OKC fought to keep the game within a single possession but couldn’t wield enough offense to overcome Houston’s run.
“It was obviously a good outing until fourth quarter,” said Daigneault. “Our defense really hasn't let us down very much this year and that's what happened tonight. I give Houston credit, they kept playing but did a lot of good things, but you get to play 48 and they kept running through the finish line. Credit them.”
The Last Word
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on the mentality after the game… “After every night we learn and we try to get better. We’ll do so tonight. Obviously we didn’t do enough to win the game and we’ll focus on those for tomorrow night’s game.”
The Thunder will close out its home-road back-to-back in Memphis to face the Grizzlies on Thursday. From there, the team will have a three-day break between contests before hitting the floor again on Monday in Detroit.