Photo Credits: Zach Beeker/OKC Thunder
With San Antonio entering Wednesday devoid of seven players, including Keldon Johnson and DeMar Derozan, speculation developed on if Wednesday’s competition would even be played? Those claims were shot down, unknowingly handing Thunder fans their best game of the season as the Oklahoma City Thunder stunned the Spurs 102-99 in novel fashion. The Thunder elevated themselves to 13-19 with the victory, climbing to 12th place in the Western Conference standings. San Antonio remains in the 6th seed despite falling to 16-12, however they lost much needed comfort — standing just 0.5 games back of the 8th seed.
The first five minutes of play saw little assertion from either side with three tied and three lead changes — then came Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Gilgeous-Alexander helped orchestrate a 14-2 run in a three minute span off of three stepback triples to go along with a pair of nifty passes. Oklahoma City held out the period strong holding a 28-22 lead to close the first. SGA’s three quick shots from behind ran infectious amongst the Thunder squad. The Thunder totaled 6 of their 11 made field goals in the first strictly from downtown, using their 9 second chance points to bolster their lead.
Oklahoma City’s positionless Diallo-Williams-Jackson-Roby-Muscala lineup fell flat in the first two minutes, struggling en route to an 11-2 Spurs run on the quarter’s onset. When regular starters returned, circumstances remained the same with dormant offensive play. As a response, the Spurs outscored the Thunder 24-12 in the second period to jump out to a 45-40 lead by half. Statlines from the second quarter are very deceiving as though San Antonio netted a +12 gain, their 8-of-22 shooting was nothing to be proud of. For Oklahoma City, they combined for a feeble 5-of-18 from the floor, having Shai Gilgeous-Alexander chip in half the team’s points.
San Antonio applied an instant offense to begin the second half going on an 8-2 run to take an 11 point lead — but Oklahoma City didn’t let them run away. The Thunder retaliated with an 11-2 run behind a collection of SGA and Dort baskets. The Thunder charged up a dominant scoring period, strolling in to take their first lead since quarter one with under a minute to go, ending the quarter with a fitting Shai Gilgeous-Alexander layup as time expired — Thunder up 76-73. Shai kept his team in the game, continuing his All-Star performance in quarter three, sneaking in 21 points on 5-of-5 shooting (8-of-9 FT) in the quarter while still adding on 3 assists. With such a strong quarter, the 22-year-old surpassed his career-high with three minutes left, cranking out 34 points to that point.
The Spurs fired off a quick 11-0 tangent using three consecutive Thunder turnovers to create easy looks at both levels for an eight point lead. Just as things had been in the third, right when you expect OKC to fold — they flourish. Two quick fire Maledon and Muscala threes set this game back to a one-possession showdown regaining the lead with seven to go. Four straight Gilgeous-Alexander points to go along with a pair of Lu Dort triple handed Oklahoma City a seven-point lead with three minutes remaining. San Antonio exchanged a 5-2 heatwave to five OKC a 2 point lead with a minute left. Shai set an iso driving in for an open Dort left-wing triple — squeaking outside after falling halfway down. Lonnie Walker took full advantage of a broken down fastbreak splitting defenders for a game tying layup with 29.9 seconds. Shai once again embarked on delivering the dagger, but found back iron on a stepback three attempt — the Spurs had one more chance with 10.7 seconds. Patty Mills squared up for the final shot, going over a LaMarcus Aldridge screen before double-dribbling in an attempt to change direction, gifting the Thunder a second chance with 3.9 to go. Off a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander inbound, Al Horford received the inbound at the free-throw line driving in before hitting Lu Dort open in the right corner — BANG! Ball. Game.
After Lu Dort’s first career game winner the sophomore seemed confident in his shot-making ability, saying, “I knew they were going to over help on Al [Horford]. I was ready.” Upon the 21-year-old’s game clincher, he was met with a team dog pile, “It felt great.” Dort said, adding, “They were all yelling in my face.” Dort’s silencer was a cherry on top of his solid 16 point (6-of-12 FG), 4 rebound outing, as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander mentioned, “Lu had a few great plays down the stretch of that game. [He] Made some big shots.”
Another evident plus from Wednesday’s heartthrob surfaced from star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, posting a career-high with 42 points (13-of-20 FG) to tag along with 8 rebounds, and 4 assists. The 22-year-old driving ability has only blossomed throughout the season, tallying 14 points in the paint paired with 10-of-11 made attempts at the charity stripe. Multiple defense efforts employed by Gregg Popovich hindered the guard momentarily — but it inadvertently opened the door for an even bigger threat. One of the biggest breakthroughs that made San Antonio pay all night was his three — signing in on 6-of-11 tries, “it puts the defense in a bind” Shai said on him three-point prowess, “it’s something that I’ve worked on tremendously.”
Al Horford had been the only Thunder member NOT named Lu Dort or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to notch double-figures on Wednesday, sinking in 16 points on 7-of-16 shooting. The 34-year-old controlled the strings of Spurs bigs early, forcing them outside on pick-and-pops for SGA attacks to the basket.
All other members of the Thunder unit were held below seven points, including a scoreless Darius Bazley, but they all still chipped in. Oklahoma City outrebounded the Spurs 52-44 in the contest, while keeping their 20+ assist streak alive, pouring in 21 on Wednesday.
The Oklahoma City Thunder (13-19) will have one day of rest before re-entering the Chesapeake Energy Arena to face the Trae Young-led Atlanta Hawks (14-18) on Friday evening.