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Thunder stung by Hornets 113-97 in preseason opener

With six departures and ten new faces on roster, the Thunder entered preseason play with a flurry of questions — they came back with little answers. The Oklahoma City Thunder slid to the Charlotte Hornets 113-97 on Monday. For the Thunder, the loss marks a 0-1 start their four-game preseason. On the Hornets’ side of the nest, the win opens an undefeated 1-0 opening.

The Thunder and Hornets mingled with a layup line for the opening possessions as Josh Giddey swooped in for a driving layup a minute into play. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander entered the scoring column three minutes in nailing a straight-away three to tie the game at 7-all. Five-consecutive Hornets points set the tone before a Josh Giddey push-shot struck the game back to a single possession, effectively brewing a single-possession grudge match. In the latter portion of the period, the duo of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort strung up eight-consecutive points to keep themselves in the mix. The Thunder called for a full-on rotation swap dicing in rookies Tre Mann and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, among others, for the closing two minutes. The Hornets’ second-unit steamed a late push in the frame en route to a 9-0 closing run fueled by a Jalen McDaniels alley-oop jam. By the first period’s end, the Hornets were up double-digits 34-19. In the Thunder’s early struggles, they failed to find their rhythm from distance, shooting a mere 2-of-14 (14.3%) from the range.  

Rookie Tre Mann tallied his first preseason points quick into the second, scoring two free throws off a hard drive. Off the ensuing possessions the Hornets covered their ground yet again posting a 6-2 hotstreak, forcing a Thunder timeout down 40-22. Mark Daigneault elected to pair Josh Giddey with Tre Mann post-timeout; the move yielded two near highlight reels almost instantly. In the highlight-Esque moves, Josh Giddey drove in from the left side gunning a one-armed pass to the right wing while lasering an overhead, jump pass to Isaiah Roby in the right corner, resulting in a missed attempt. The Aussies second-quarter prominence glistened in the scoring department as well, as Giddey completed two driving layups to net a Hornets timeout behind 45-30. The Thunder dwindled the lead back down to 10 at the five-minute mark as five Aleksej Pokusevski points and a Lu Dort trifecta prompted an 8-3 run. The Thunder struck out of luck trying to tap into single digits, coughing up three turnovers en route to a 9-0 streak from the Hornets. The Thunder faltered in transition defense to close the half allowing two left-corner threes to fall back 67-45 at half. 

Oklahoma City played in survival mode for the majority of the half, failing to assert themselves on the offensive end. The Thunder shot a paltry 17-of-45 (37.9%) from the floor through 24 minutes, slowing down even more from distance going 5-of-23 (21.7%). Lu Dort buried over half of the Thunder’s first half threes shooting 3-of-6 from downtown to notch 11 points. Guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey kept up the octane with 9 and 8 points, respectively, but a collective five turnovers between the two marked a blemish on their resumes. Turnovers became the overarching story for the half as a collective 14 Thunder turnovers led to a 13-4 Hornets advantage in the fastbreak. For the Hornets, they logged a polished 58.7-percent clip from the field and a 41.2-percent efficiency from three. Charlotte found safeguard in LaMelo Ball and P.J. Washington as the duo placed 13 and 12 points. 

The Charlotte Hornets upped their advantage to 25 a minute inside the half putting the Thunder on their heels in a flash. Pioneered by a Josh Giddey layup and corner three, Oklahoma City ironed out a 14-7 patch to cut the game to 16, but they failed to extend the push any further. By the third quarter’s end, the Thunder were out 91-71. The Thunder were given a golden opportunity in the frame following a 1-of-11 perimeter dryspell from the Hornets — but they failed to capitalize.     

Mark Daigneault held off on garbage time to start the fourth placing Josh Giddey, Aleksej Pokusevski, Ty Jerome, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Mike Muscala on to open play. The Thunder tapped into their secondary units for the back-end of the fourth tossing in Aaron Wiggins and Paul Watson Jr. Aaron Wiggins provided a major spark in his fourth-quarter experience with 12 points in seven minutes. At the horn, the Thunder couldn’t cement a comeback, falling 113-97. 

Oklahoma City struggled shooting the basketball the entire way, finishing the night up shooting 33-of-86 (38.6%) overall and 15-of-48 (31.3%) at the perimeter. The Thunder perked up in the latter half of the frame, but a combined 21 turnovers created a plethora of fastbreak opportunities for the Hornets.

Charlotte seized the moment while Oklahoma City was at their lowest, piecing together a 44-of-89 (49.4%) outing while shooting 9-of-33 (27.3%) on triples. The Hornets clobbered the rebound-battle 63-to-50, resulting in some extra possessions. No. 11 Pick, James Bouknight, led the swarm for the Hornets, stirring up 20 points (8-of-12 FG), 4 rebounds, and 3 steals across 20 minutes. Bouknight had been widely rumored to be in the Thunder’s crosshairs in preparation for the draft.

Josh Giddey lived up to his expectations posting an impressive 18 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists in 29 minutes. Following a five-minute stint in Las Vegas, many naysayers questioned the guard’s ability to get past defenders due to a mediocre speed with the ball. However, Giddey’s biggest strength on Monday rested on getting inside as the Aussie forked in five layups across Monday, including a pair of push shots. Giddey’s night of pleasantries expanded to the three-point line as he sank 2-of-4 triples, both coming off of the catch. Even though the 18-year-old gunned off only three assists in his tenure, he electrified the offense, ripping out one-handed passes while penetrating and playing up-top, throwing picture-perfect jump passes, and pioneering the offense from the halfcourt setting. Giddey’s potential-filled debut shed light on an elite-level playmaking with an intriguing scoring game once moving downhill. The guard cherishes the honors of the second-youngest player league-wide, further amplifying the possibilities within the franchise.

Aaron Wiggins picked right up where he left off sneaking into double-digits off of his seven-minute, fourth-quarter tangent. The two-way wing shot an uber-efficient 4-of-5 while going a perfect 3-of-3 from beyond the arch. Wiggins’ seamless transition to preseason play may make the 22-year-old a favorite for an increased role heading into Oklahoma City’s next contest.

Aleksej Pokusevski generated 11 points and 4 rebounds in a sixth man gig with the Thunder on Monday. Poku went a shotty 4-of-12 over the course of the evening shooting 2-of-7 from distance. The Serbian Assassin’s tempo mirrored much of last season, dicing in three turnovers in 22 minutes, however, he did utilize his length for a pull-up midrange and a driving finger roll.

Lu Dort put a bow on double-digit scorers riding his 11-point half until the end of play. Dort hardly capitalized penetrating towards the rim, however, the guard did blow by his defender on multiple occasions.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander recorded a faulty return, placing 9 points, 3 rebounds, and 4 assists in 17 minutes. Gilgeous-Alexander’s preseason opener concluded in the early portions of the second half, but the Kentucky alum went out rather prosaic shooting 3-of-8 and 1-of-5 from three. Shai did a solid job at creating space in the midrange, however, the fourth-year guard got jumbled in choosing to shoot or pass the ball.

Darius Bazely shot a blank 0-of-4 during play, capping the night with 0 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists in 16 minutes. The Hornets opted to sag off on the forward throughout the game, and though he showed hesitancy, he let loose three triples during the night. Bazely’s defensive performance saw a lot of activity in loose balls, though he did suffer a few lapses in covering on transition defense.

Tre Mann finished his debut with 8 points, 2 assists, and 3 steals. The 20-year-old excelled at initiating contact en route to a 6-of-6 free throw outing, but the guard’s overall shot chart pointed him at 1-of-7.

The Thunder will take a five-day hiatus before reinitiating their preseason play versus the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday.

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