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Thunder grazed past in home opener, slide to 76ers 115-103

With a fully-healthy Oklahoma City Thunder taking on Philadelphia 76ers group minus Ben Simmons, Sunday’s meeting provided a healthy test in the Thunder’s debut game at the Paycom Center. Despite the injury report, the Thunder failed to make bank, losing out to the 76ers 115-103.

Philadelphia entered the contest, guns blazing, mounting an 8-2 lead through three minutes, but Oklahoma City still kept their nose into things. Though the Thunder’s initial strategy revolved around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander high-ball screens ending in Derrick Favors pops, once shots opened up at the perimeter — they were back in the game. Oklahoma City cut the game to a single-possession following a Lu Dort three, and three consecutive driving shots handed every starting member points through five minutes. As for the 76ers camp, their offense had generated solely in guard Seth Curry to open play as he swooped around double screens and DHOs baskets, sticking in 14 of the team’s first 18 points. Oklahoma City continued to combat Curry, testing them inside, but as the first wave of bench rotations set in, so did Curry’s three-ball. The 31-year-old piled up jumper after jumper through Thunder traffic, culminating with two threes in the final minute to log 23 points by the end of the quarter. For comparison, Oklahoma City ended the frame with 26 points, down 36-26. Doc Rivers entrusted Curry the entire way centering sets around his shot taking at the wing, it paid off as he shot 8-of-10 in the period, and 6-of-7 from distance — instantly tying his career-record.

The second quarter held a pace rather sluggish in comparison to the first frame. A 5-2 start from the Thunder’s bench mob made things interesting to open, but a stalemate put a lid on the basket, and allowed for the 76ers to reclaim their double-digit ticket. Oklahoma City’s back-and-forth play heated up in the final minutes of discourse as Josh Giddey sank a floater before a beautifully executed hopstep-pass from Darius Bazley on the break led to a deep two. It took until the final basket for the Thunder to break the 10-point seal as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander pioneered a 7-2 closing run topped with a 27-foot stepback to draw the game to 58-51 by half.

Oklahoma City’s first half on Sunday had easily been their best to this point as they notched a 44 percent hit-rate while going 9-of-10 at the line. A cold spell emerged from distance shooting a feeble 4-of-16 outside, but persistent penetrations from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander logged the Thunder 13 points, and a plethora of open kickouts.

Philadelphia’s first-quarter star in Seth Curry was held scoreless in the second quarter, but his prior work still stained the stat sheet. The 76ers shot almost identically at both ranges shooting 48.8 percent (21-of-43 FG) from the floor and 47.6 percent (10-of-21 3PA) from deep. 

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander got right to work in opening the third quarter, clashing inside for two free throws before knocking down a fadeaway jumper for a six-point game. Philadelphia evaded a change of power hitting two jumpers to create some space but a batch of layups, including a Josh Giddey floater knocked the lead to four. Oklahoma City continued to take baby steps throughout the frame but it wasn’t until the last two minutes where inflicting wounds were dealt. With the 76ers up nine, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander took matters into his own hands blowing past Matisse Thybulle three-straight times to post layups and free throws before assisting on a Mike Muscala three to keep a bid at 87-78.   

Oklahoma City sliced the gap to seven points to open the fourth frame, with a Jeremiah Robinson-Earl slam off of a Josh Giddey assist. The Thunder’s momentum spiraled, however, as a swatted layup from Darius Bazley, plus a team turnover, swayed the momentum, opening the door for four consecutive Sixers buckets en route to an 11-0 run to inflate the lead to 18. Mark Daigneault made a prompt adjustment following the plummet, placing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort into the lineup to make a case for a comeback. The move generated a two-minute stallout as neither side connected on shots, but a Kenrich Williams pullup and Lu Dort layup spurred on some momentum, ultimately climaxing with a drive-right Josh Giddey lay-in resulting in an and-one. The middle portion of the frame hosted a barrage of back-and-forth buckets as the lead wavered, though Oklahoma City’s tandem in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort made a strong presence, tallying eight-consecutive points between the two. The Thunder entered the final two minutes with little signs of vitality down 110-97, and with a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander blown layup — the game seemed over. Oklahoma City continued to keep their head in the game despite the hardship though, as a fastbreak opportunity wielded a missed Josh Giddey rim grazer that ended in a pair of free throws. Giddey fell awkwardly on his ankle en route to the jam as Joel Embiid met the 19-year-old, though the Aussie didn’t seem fazed at the stripe. Oklahoma City’s trap defense resulted in Giddey intercepting a Tobias Harris pass, and the rookie became a benefactor on the other end, splashing a corner three off of an SGA drive-and-dish. Daigneault imposed trap defense on the ensuing possession, but an open Seth Curry left-corner three put a wrap on things as his play posted the 76ers up 11 inside a minute, and added the stamp on a 115-103 victory.

Though the Thunder walked away empty handed from the contest, the boys from Bricktown made a serious stand in the dwindling moments, and even garnered a standing ovation from the crowd at the buzzer. 

Mark Daigneault excised his rotation to 11 for Sunday’s game removing Isaiah Roby, Ty Jerome, and Vit Krejci, among others from the scorer’s table, though their teammates made up for the losses. Oklahoma City took control of the inside battle for the first time this season up 54-38, but a feeble 8-of-31 (25.8%) piecing on three’s led them to lose the war. Unlike prior contests, the Thunder’s activity on dribble drives created ample amounts of success leading the cause in 24 assists while only posting 11 turnovers.

The 76ers honed in from all three levels Sunday shooting 46.6 percent overall (41-of-88 FG), 41.5 percent (14-of-41 3PA) on threes, and 80.0 percent (16-of-20 FT) at the stripe. Seth Curry remained quiet up until the final sting reaching 28 points (9-of-15 FG) after his historic 23-point quarter, while Joel Embiid picked up the slack with 22 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander looked like his true self at the Paycom Center, erupting for 29 points, 6 rebounds, and 8 assists in 39 minutes. Gilgeous-Alexander struggled again from three going 1-of-6, but his precision at the charity stripe absolved the grievances as he got the line 12 times, draining 10. Philadelphia’s more lax approach on screen defense allowed for a host of chances for the 23-year-old, and he made sure to take advantage.

Josh Giddey generated major recognition spewing out 19 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, and 4 steals in 34 minutes. The 19-year-old crushed Philadelphia when attacking the basket, freezing defenders with moving hesitations and going right over the top of guards with his 6-foot-8 frame. As a passer Giddey excelled making reads under the basket for kickouts, but he also created a pair of assists by using his eyes to direct attention and get defenders flat-footed prior to a pass.

Lu Dort continued his shooting slump into Sunday going an awry 1-of-6 on triples, but he did help cover by slashing to the basket, ending the game with 13 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal. Dort’s brute-force ability inside came up big on defense as the guard remained active, even pouncing on a ball mid-bounce to garner a tie up.

Kenrich Williams saw a major jump in roles Sunday, placing critical minutes to open the fourth quarter, and added a nice touch playing a backseat role for 8 points (3-of-4 FG) and 2 rebounds in 21 minutes. 

Aleksej Pokusevski and Tre Mann dipped to minimal roles on Sunday with 7 and 10 minutes, respectively. Both players went straight to the shot as Poku shot 2-of-5 for 4 points while Mann tallied 2 points on a 1-of-5 gathering. Poku and Mann caught minutes in the 15-to-20-minute range in the past two games, so their places in the rotation should be monitored moving forward.

The Oklahoma City Thunder (0-3) will take a one-day break before taking on the Golden State Warriors (3-0) in game two-of-three in their homestand. 

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