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Aleksej Pokusevski breaks history as Thunder rattle Grizzlies 128-122

With Oklahoma City missing four of five usual starters (Maledon, Dort, Bazley, Horford) the group banded together to oust the Memphis Grizzlies 128-122. The Thunder (17-22) moved up to the 11th seed with the win holding a half-game lead over the 12th-seeded Pelicans. The Grizzlies stumbled to 17-18 with the loss, roofing a two-game cushion for their 10th seed.

Oklahoma City went right to their young guns. The team molded Shai with Ty Jerome, Justin Jackson, Aleksej Pokusevski, and Moses Brown starting to orchestrate their offense. Shai GIlgeous-Alexander struggled to immerse himself early, going blank on four field goal tries, but the young bucks came for reinforcements. Aleksej Pokusevski led all scorers through one with 7 points (2-of-3) FG, looking at all three-levels to get there. Moses Brown slotted himself right behind the Serbian, pumping in six points to reduce their deficit. The Thunder were outshot 62.5%-to-42.1% in the period, however a 10-0 advantage in the free throw column set the game  at 31-28 entering the second. 

A Thunder 13-3 run set the tone for their team, keeping the pressure on without running a traditional point guard off. While Oklahoma City’s jolt ramped down, the Grizzlies got a spark feeding down low for foul shots, going 9-of-12 in the period. Mark Daigneault’s bunch tried to reinvigorate their successes with up-tempo play, but 8 team  turnovers garnered Memphis some daylight up 62-55 at half. 

Aleksej Pokusevski came into his own entering the half’s infancy stages, knocking down two triples in the first three minutes — he became infectious. The Thunder hovered at the perimeter, sinking 5 of their first 7 field goals simultaneously opening up the lane for SGA drives and Moses Brown jams. Memphis called to action, extinguishing Oklahoma City’s push off 16 points in the paint while attacking the glass for five extra shots at the rim en route to a 100-90 lead through three.   

Two straight triples for the Thunder erased their double-digit hole in a matter of a minute, keeping this game on edge for a close finish. Darius Miller shrunk the Grizzlies lead to one-possession drilling a 4-point play with 9 to play, knotting things at 104 just a possession later. Memphis tried to bolster their lead however they fell victim to Sunday’s biggest threat — Aleksej Pokusevski. The Serbian Assassin recaptured the lead drilling a right-wing catch-fire three at the midway point, ballooning to four a possession later of a Darius Miller pullup. Sides exchanged blows for the ensuing minutes until a signature Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stepback three propped the Thunder up 8 with 3 to go. Memphis attempted to pry Oklahoma City late lead open — those aspirations were wiped. Isaiah Roby put the nail in the coffin, banking home a double clutch layup to bump the lead to 11 with a minute to go.   

Oklahoma City neared as many turnovers (24) as assists (26) in Sunday’s meeting, but their historic shooting clinic covered the cost and then some. The Thunder shot a blistering 51.6% from downtown converting on 16-of-31 tries, making the fourth time in franchise history the roster shot 50 percent off 30+ attempts.

Oklahoma City shared the compassion with seven of nine active players notching double-digits. Aleksej Pokusevski sprouted as the team’s igniter, seeing right over Memphis’ defense (quite literally) for career-highs with 23 points and 10 rebounds, while adding on 4 assists. The 7-footer made the record books as the franchises youngest member to post a double-double (surpassing Kevin Durant) while simultaneously going into league history as the youngest player to rack up 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 5+ made threes. Pokusevski took the momentum — and ran with it, using a game-high 39 minutes to shoot 7-of-13 from the floor and lock in for 5 threes off 8 tries. The 19-year-old ran makeshift point-guard in Shai’s missed time, using it to strut down the court for shots, and tee off cross-court passes. In Poku’s runs with SGA, his curriculum of catch-and-shoot offense spurred on the group, robotically swishing home jumper after jumper. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander ended his performance with a game-high of 30 points sluing on 5 assists. Shai’s first quarter struggles iced away as Pokusevski became the hot topic. The 22-year-old used his daylight by slashing right to the basket for quick points and free throws (10-of-11 FTM,) slowly seeping outside nailing 4-of-6 threes. This was the first game where SGA reached the 30-point mark in covert fashion, effortlessly veering his way to his points. Kenrich Williams used his 25 minutes to squander the Grizzlies, cutting inside to figure 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting. Williams’ usage spiked when placed with no clear-cut ball-handler, using the open lanes to slip inside off backdoor cuts. Moses Brown upped his career-high in points (set on Thursday) with 13 marks (5-of-6 FG) mixing in 4 rebounds, a block, and a steal. Brown took his first career start and made the most of it, parting time with Shai and Ty Jerome to screen and roll to the basket. Ty Jerome racked up 12 points (5-of-12 FG), 6 rebounds, and 5 assists across 29 minutes. Jerome tuned a larghetto tempo wielding the basketball, enticing defenders before sounding off rigorous passes. Darius Miller played sidekick to Pokusevski picking up his vibrations for 11 points (3-of-4 FG) almost solely from jump-shots. Isaiah Roby net the Thunder’s third-highest minute total with 33, taking his time to collect 10 points (3-of-4 FG) and 8 rebounds, approaching a triple-double with 9 turnovers. Roby’s responsibilities stretched from the three to five in the day, so his haphazardness with the ball has some degree of reason.

The Oklahoma City Thunder (17-22) grip one day of break before continuing their homestand against the Billy Donovan-led Chicago Bulls (17-20.)

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