Jumping into Friday night, expectations for the Oklahoma City Thunder strayed up in the air with Hamidou Diallo’s absence (groin strain.) Despite the use of Diallo, the Thunder rallied together to down the Hawks 118-109. Oklahoma City continues to climb up the Western Conference, currently sitting at 14-19, good for the 12th seed. Atlanta now matched OKC’s 14-19 record off the loss, looking just outside the play-in seeds at 11th in the East.
Atlanta went right to work inside using Clint Capela to generate the first 6 points for the team. Oklahoma City matched Atlanta’s pace using the interior for help showcased by two Darius Bazley dunks in the quarter. Atlanta’s menacing size overpowered the Thunders winning the rebound battle 13-3 in the first 7 minutes, with Clint Capela snagging 8. Ty Jerome made his Thunder debut and handed a jolt of offense distributing, sparking a 12-7 run in his first two minutes. Atlanta mounted themselves on a two-possession lead in the quarters final possession, but a Kenrich Williams mid-range to cap the period tightened the gap 33-31 through one.
Oklahoma City jumped the bullet in the second taking an early lead off a 4-0 spurt, but Atlanta found their stride just seconds later to reclaim the lead. Both sides exchanged fire for most of the quarter until the 5 minute mark where a Bazley layup plus a Maledon no-look dime resulted in the Thunder grabbing a 5 point lead. Once starting units for both respective sides checked in, things were much of the same — ending the period deadlocked 63-55. Shot selection catered much towards the exchange of power as the Thunder shot 67% in the quarter routinely off multiple passes while the Hawks converted on 43% of attempts using a more isolation-heavy approach.
The Thunder spread the wealth in the first half sending out 19 assists on 27 made field goals (70%.) Ty Jerome was the catalyst of 6 of the team’s assists, making an abundance of extra passes in transition. Easy looks netted cavities in Atlanta’s defense allowing for Darius Bazley and Kenrich Williams to tally double-digits largely off cuts to the basket.
This was a game of two-halfs, almost in a literal sense. The Thunder’s Orange jerseys clashed far too much with Atlanta’s red alternates, inciting a League request for a uniform change — Oklahoma City chose white. The Thunder didn’t let their jersey swap get in the way of their play continuing to stay active redirecting the basketball. The team’s efforts paid dividends, spiking their lead to double-digits off another no-look Maledon pass, this time landing in the grasp of Bazley. Pressure continued to be applied during the course of the quarter, piling up a 17-5 run in a 4 minute span, pushing their lead to 16. Mike Muscala sent a statement upon the quarter close burying a 30-footer to end the half 96-80.
Not much noise came early in the quarter’s onset, though Atlanta quietly scraped together a 10-4 run in the first four minutes to wipe the lead to 10. The Hawks stayed pesky dropping the game to 8 before a pair of Thunder triples boosted more room with 6 to go. Atlanta trimmed down the lead to 6 with 2:45 to go until Lu Dort three coupled with an SGA layup starched their lead to 11 with 2 to go. Darius Bazley sent the real silencer to the Hawks jamming home a two-handed tomahawk with just a second in change to go. Too little too late for Atlanta.
The highlight to national media comes from the second half jersey change — for the Thunder fan, this game showed off just how much potential this team possesses. The stars of the show very well may have come out of unlikely names, as two men on the roster made history. Thunder newcomer Ty Jerome strolled into Friday night fresh off a G-League game on Wednesday, despite that he dominated. Jerome struck a chord instantly in finding the open man. Jerome’s slo-mo approach to the game put Atlanta in a whirlwind, evidenced by 4 assists in his first 5 minutes of run — breaking his 3.2 assist average he had off 24 minutes with the Blue. The roller-coaster ride of the guard’s performance never stopped, filling in everywhere to garner 9 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 steals across 22 minutes. “I just thought that he seamlessly plugged in.” Mark Daigneault said. Theo Maledon completed the two-manned crew, tying yet another franchise record on Friday. The 19-year-old slipped in razzle-dazzle plays across 34 minutes to compile 13 points (4-of11 FG) and 12 assists. Theo’s assist mark tied a franchise rookie record only held by Russell Westbrook — that’s some good company. Maledon’s playmaking ability has put the league on notice, excavating ways to sift through defenses upon screens and no-look dimes. Guard play didn’t stop with Ty and Theo as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander posted a team high 24 points on 9-of-16 shooting almost seamlessly on Friday, further cementing himself as a star at the guard position. The 22-year-old has not shied from launching up three balls this week, going 3-of-4 this game off of side-step triples. Lu Dort remained poised outside, collecting 4-of-9 buckets from deep. Dort’s contribution didn’t just sit at the three, clashing in for 7 more points off free throws and layups. Darius Bazley surfaced his bounce-back game turning into a demon inside. The 20-year-old struggled from distance, hitting just 1-of-5 tries, but inside, his 7-of-7 showing was unstoppable. Bazley’s tenacity around the cup paved the way for a barrage of rim-rattlers and a John Collins poster, using his athletic ability to coast around defenders. The forwards collection didn’t just end with 18 points though, netting 12 rebounds to gather his 7th double-double of the year. Kenrich Williams topped the night with 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting abusing backdoor cuts off open space to scoop in easy looks. Mike Muscala buried easy looks off the bench too, chirping home 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting, captivating fans with his buzzer-beating triple. Isaiah Roby cherished his 7 points on the night, though his collection of no-look passes emphasized the 23-year-old’s playing time.
The Oklahoma City Thunder (14-19) spring right back into action Saturday to duel with the Denver Nuggets (17-15.)