With Oklahoma City missing pivotal members in Darius Bazley (shoulder), Hamidou Diallo (groin), whilst Dallas lost out on Luka Doncic (ankle) and Kristaps Porzingus (knee), neither side came fully loaded. Despite the setbacks, Oklahoma City willed their way past Dallas in a 116-108 shootout. For the Thunder (16-21), the victory on Thursday stationed them fewer games ( from a play-in seed (2.5 GB), than a bottom four spot in the standings (3.0 GB). Dallas with the loss sunk to 19-17 on the year, grasping onto a 0.5 game hotbed over the 9th seeded Spurs.
Oklahoma City promoted Aleksej Pokusevski into the starting group in Darius Bazley’s absence, and things started as per usual. The Thunder kept the ball active out the gate, netting their first 4-of-5 made shots off of assists. Aleksej Pokusevski touched in his first points since February 1, dropping in a free-throw jumper topping a 15-9 lead. They never let off the gas pedal trenching the Mavericks on a 16-4 run to mount a 31-14 lead, and holding on 35-19 at the buzzer. Oklahoma City clobbered Dallas in every major category, winning the field goal battle 46% to 30%, the assist category 8-4, and the rebound total on an 18-5 onslaught. Daigneault’s creativity came into full effect in the first, using 9 players in the period to invigorate the offense from the paint ( points) and downtown ( / 3pt FG.)
The Mavericks rode into the second with some life racking in the period’s first 5 points, but a return-fire from the Thunder accounted for their losses. Styles differentiated in a big manner in the infant stages with Dallas rooting their efforts in Boban bully-ball whilst Oklahoma City kept the ball moving for shots at all three-levels. Mini-runs embodied the midway point as two Thunder 5-0 runs and a Mavs 5-0 run surfaced in three minutes. The emergence of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander late busted Dallas wide-open tacking on 7 points in the final 4 minutes of play en route to a 62-47 halftime lead.
Blistering shooting totals propelled Oklahoma City to their halftime successes going 71.4% from downtown on 10-of-14 attempts. The triples were by no means the due all be all either, as the Thunder’s decorated passing held a 15-10 assist advantage, and they even stayed active for a 30-16 handling on the glass.
Dallas sprayed Oklahoma City’s lead to single-digits off a 9-2 run in the first three — the momentum didn’t last long. Six straight Al Horford points coupled with a Lu Dort triple squashed the Mavericks hopes of an effortless comeback. The Thunder struck more fatal blows at the Mavs piling on 13 unanswered points for their highest of the night at 21. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jalen Brunson weren’t giving up despite the cards stacked against them, fueling an exchange to shrink the game 82-72 with 3 to go. A chippy 7-2 Oklahoma City exchange ended the period on an 89-74 high note. Chippy offense drove the Thunder, using _ second chance points and _ free throws to steam their play. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander impressed yet again in the quarter capper highlighted by an and-1 floater as he trended backwards.
Fouling issues plagued the Thunder early with 3 team fouls in the first three minutes, yet it didn’t stop them. Oklahoma City rolled out a mismatch lineup of Maledon-Jerome-Williams-Roby-Brown tangoing with the Mavericks starters 10-6 through the first four minutes. A sting of missed chip shots for the Thunder dwindled their lead down to 11, but Moses Brown assisted right when needed with a strong putback jam. Once the starters phased in on both ends, Dallas prevailed making this game single-digits with just under 4 to go. Emotions ran high off a Rick Carlise challenge that portrayed Shai Gilgeous-Alexander shrugging off Tim Hardaway’s arm in motion to a five. The successful challenge stirred up Dallas pacing of 5 quick points to plummet the game to four at the 2 minute warning. The game suffocated to one-possession off a pair of Hardaway free throws but back-to-back SGA buckets provided the Thunder a six-point cushion with 1:21 left. Dallas hounded the Thunder with full-court pressure off a made two, but they left the opening for one man — Aleksej Pokusevski. The Serbian Assassin swished home a right corner triple to insert the dagger, even swatting the final shot at the rack.
The Thunder showcased an all-around drubbing Thursday night, controlling advantages shooting (2’s and 3’s), rebounding, assisting, and converting at the line. The unit’s only major lapses came in defending last week’s heroes in Josh Richardson, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Jalen Brunson who amassed 27, 26, and 24 points respectively. Dallas’ only other member in double-digits emerged in Maxi Kleber who sought home 14 points. Outside of the core four, the remaining 8 Mavericks’ were silenced to a paltry 5-of-30 shooting (16.7%.) Despite the lack of depth (and stars), the team had a chance to steal this game at the line, amassing a colossal 33 free throw tries to Oklahoma City’s 20. They seized to take advantage, sinking just 23 tries to the Thunder’s 18 conversions.
Oklahoma City’s 9-man rotation prospered under Daigneault’s wing, giving each member copious, meaningful time to prove themselves — they sure did. The Thunder netted five players in double-figures, and a couple of men stood right outside the horizon line. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the game with 32 points (11-22 FG) branching out to tag 2 rebounds and 6 assists. Shai’s signature step-back triple missed its mark in the contest (1-of-5 3pt FG), yet he coasted right by this road bump. The 22-year-old rattled off penetration after penetration, drawing defenders near for a 9-9 free throw outing. It became clear that the week long break paid major benefits towards Al Horford, as the big man sounded off 21 points (8-of-15 FG), 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 27 minutes. Horford flashed his Atlanta days soaring in for a collection of slashes to the basket, including a 3rd quarter driving dunk. Big Al honed in from outside, spewing out 4 hits on 5 attempts. Lu Dort impressed with 14 points on 4 made field goals. The Harden Stopper induced agony into the Mavs from deep, turning into a primary catch-and-shoot man for all of his made buckets (4-of-7 3pt FG). Theo Maledon applied static pressure with 11 points (4-of-9 FG) and a game-high 9 assists across 35 minutes. Maledon used his feeble time running the one succinctly stretching out defenders for needle threating looks in the pick-and-roll. Aleksej Pokusevski ended his return game with a bang. The 19-year-old tallied a career-highs in points (14) and rebounds (8), contributed 3 assists and 2 blocks, and even shot high first career free throws after 300 minutes of run. Poku’s first game back from the Blue already raised hype but factoring in him starting, you had a whole social media whirlwind around this guy. Pokusevski played much more refined in the contest, staying true for catch-and-shoots and drives, never shying away mid-play for a bad turnover. The rookie got tested late in the night, being forced to chuck up corner tries, that ended up saving this game. There was a clear confidence boost from the last time we saw the 7-footer in a Thunder jersey, here’s to hoping he maintains his play. Moses Brown caught flack before, during, and after his G-League stardom with the Blue due to being “too skinny” and “one-sided” to make it. Through one game, Brown’s tenure with the Blue translated seamlessly to the Thunder, mocking up 8 points (3-of-8 FG) and a career-high 12 rebounds in 19 minutes. Moses Brown turned Dwight Powell into a Texas Legend for the day, snagging down 5 offensive rebounds to Powell’s 4 on both ends. The 7-foot-2 big operated the high pick-and-roll smoothly (just like he did in Orlando) for a pair of baskets, and his ferocious pump-fakes and cockbacks are still very much in the routine. The timeshare across the five spot left Brown out of the picture before Thursday, now, there’s no way he gets relegated to a courtside seat. Blue product Ty Jerome slumped with a 1-of-8 showing for 3 points, but his 6 rebounds and assist made the 23-year-old a positive asset. Isaiah Roby beefed the bench with 9 points and 6 rebounds, even hinting back at his face up game going 1-of-1 from deep-range. Mike Muscala was active for the contest, though the big man didn’t step foot on the hardwood. “It [playing younger pieces] took Mike out of the rotation, but Mike’s a pro and he’ll stay ready.” Daigneault stated after the game.
The Oklahoma City Thunder (16-21) get a day of relaxation before testing the New York Knicks (19-19) Saturday in a 1pm opener.