With the Thunder only retaining six of their players from last years playoff squad, many raised the question if this new-look Thunder team would be able to compete. The Thunder shot these doubters down as they were able to squeak by the Hornets 109-107.
This game was a tale of two different halves. In the first quarter it seemed as if both teams were feeling each other out as neither were able to gain much momentum. The Hornets had mounted themselves on a 17-12 lead with 5 minutes to go in the quarter, but the Thunder strung together an 8-0 run in a span of 90 seconds to close the gap. Of those who made an impact early on, Hornets’ guard LaMelo Ball comes to mind. Ball took over the Hornets offense in the first, and provided the spark off the bench the team needed, dropping 9 points on 3-4 shooting, in just 5 minutes of play. For the Thunder they had an even distribution of points in the opening quarter with 4 players scoring 5 or more.
In the second quarter, things seemed more to be the same. The Thunder slipped behind 45-54 with just over three to go in the game, but yet another Thunder run erased their deficit, orchestrating a 10-0 run to put them up a point. Ultimately, slipping to a 57-59 hole to close the half. Shooting seemed to be a major struggle in the first half for the Thunder, as they shot just 2-16 (12.5%) from distance in the half. Both teams guards led their respective teams through the first half. The two guard lineup of George Hill and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander kept the Thunder in reaching distance as they both tallied double figures before the half’s closing. For the Hornets, their triple-threat combo of Ball, Graham, and Rozier accounted for 36 of their teams 59 points in the first half.
In the second half, the game was a completely different story. The Hornets shot a putrid 4-25 in the 3rd quarter, while the Thunder were having a difficult time themselves putting the ball in the basket. Despite the Thunder’s struggle in the quarter, they still were able to outscore the Hornets 23-16, and claim the lead 80-75, as they combined to shoot for 7/17.
The fourth quarter put both teams in full throttle as both were seemingly locked in. The Thunder went from shooting 4-24 from deep in the first three quarters, to going 6-12 in the 4th. This hot hand from beyond the arch put themselves in a great position to put the game away with 2 minutes to go, up 102-89.
This was when the Hornets took over the game. In the final 2 minutes of the game the Hornets were able to force the Thunder into 5 turnovers, and convert those turnovers into points. Led by Miles Bridges 11 points, the Hornets made a 18-5 run to even the game at 107 with just 9.7 seconds to go.
After a Thunder timeout, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander took the ball the length of the court and drained a go-ahead 23-foot pullup to put the Thunder up two with 1.4 seconds to go. With the Hornets having their first chance to claim the lead, Terry Rozier was given the ball off the inbound, infront of Rozier, a sea of Thunder jerseys. He jacked up a 33 foot jumper that was way off the mark, Thunder win 109-107.
Shai GIlgeous-Alexander led the charge for the Thunder, dropping 24 points (8-20 shooting), 7 rebounds, 9 assists in 34 minutes of play. George Hill played a crucial role in the team’s success putting up 21 points (8-9 shooting, 4-4 3pt), 4 rebounds, and 3 assists. Other key pieces to the team were Darius Bazley and Lu Dort. Bazley posted 15 points (7-12 shooting) and 10 rebounds, and an assist in 33 minutes, playing a major role as a ball-handler. Dort started the game out slow for the Thunder but picked things up posting 15 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, a block and a steal in 35 minutes.
The Thunder will look to build upon their strong start as they match up against the Utah Jazz on Monday.