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Thunder glisten against Warriors, plummet late in 106-98 thriller

With Oklahoma City opening their first back-to-back of the year, the Thunder faltered late to Warriors, coughing up a 106-98 thriller at the Paycom Center. For the Thunder, the loss marks their closest contest of the season, but ultimately hinders them from a win, now sitting at 0-4. For the Warriors, their victory keeps them on the NBA’s throne being one of three teams yet to be unbeaten with a perfect 4-0 start. 

Mark Daigneault opened the night placing a small-ball starting five with Jeremiah Robinson-Earl as the primary center. Oklahoma City struck the board first as a layup coupled with a Josh Giddey drive-and-dish to an open top-of-the-key Jeremiah Robinson-Earl posted the Thunder up 5-0. A play later, an open lane sparked a two-handed jam from Darius Bazley. The Thunder’s lead trickled as two Warriors buckets cut the game to a single possession, but a Lu Dort and-one swung the pendulum back for the Thunder, and a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander layup a play later elevated Oklahoma City into a 14-4 run in the first five minutes. Oklahoma City’s off-ball movement was on full display early as a slashing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander dotted Josh Giddey cutting left baseline for a reverse layup, though the shot rolled out, Darius Bazley sprung into action to clean up the mess, throwing down a two-handed putback. Following a Golden State timeout, the Warriors found some sync attacking the basket with Draymond Green post ups and easy layups off of interior passes. By Daigneault’s timeout, the Thunder were up seven, 23-16.Sophomores Aleksej Pokusevski and Theo Maledon checked in post-timeout for Josh GIddey and Darius Bazley, and the move posted some upside as a Lu Dort drive plus a Theo Maledon catch-and-shoot brought them back up 10 points. Off of the next check in, Tre Mann moved in for Dort, prompting a three guard lineup with GIlgeous-Alexander, Mann, and Maledon, with Poku and Isaiah Roby filling the frontcourt. Steph Curry erupted in the dwindling minutes of the frame as the Splash Brother sunk two threes in the final two minutes, one of which being a four-point conversion. By the end of the period, Oklahoma City led 34-29.

Oklahoma City carried their successes to open up the second quarter as five-consecutive Aleksej Pokusevski point plus an extra pair of baskets pushed an 12-2 opening streak, and a 15-point lead in the first five minutes. During this stint, Golden State was suffocated on offense shooting a feeble 1-of-8 to open the second. The Thunder grasped onto their double-digit lead until the final few minutes but as Golden State started to check in, Oklahoma City’s margin sulked as after a three from Steph Curry and Draymond Green, a 15-4 run held the Thunder together by just 4. The Thunder put a punctuation mark on the half as a Lu Dort slash with a Jeremiah Robinson-Earl fastbreak flush left Bricktown on their feet, and the Thunder up 59-48.

The Thunder entrusted Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to open the second half utilizing two dribble drives to generate a ten-point lead, and with a Jeremiah Robinson-Earl top-of-the-key three to get the rookie to a baker’s dozen, and the Thunder up 11. Oklahoma City amassed a 13-point lead midway through the quarter and held a double-digit lead into the final four minutes until a 4-of-6 closer for Golden State opened the arches for a 17-2 closing run, and an 81-76 lead going into the fourth.

Oklahoma City jumped into the fourth quarter with a perfectly queued drive-and-dish for a right-corner Jeremiah Robinson-Earl three, but the shot was no dice. As a result of the miss, Golden State beefed their lead to 9 until a Josh Giddey putback and three ended a 21-2 run, and put the game back in hijinx. A mid quarter foul from SGA placed him at five personal fouls, but Mark Daigneault opted to keep him in at the eight-minute mark. The backcourt pairing of Josh Giddey and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander spiced things up as three-consecutive triples led an 11-6 run to make it a four-point game. Following an Andre Iguodala three pointer, the Warriors led paddled between 8-to-10 points as the game tapped into its final two minutes and remained that way until the horn as after forcing a Warriors turnover with 30 seconds to go, the Thunder missed on the other end, putting a finish to the game out 106-98.

Just like how Sunday’s contest transpired, the Paycom Center was on its feet for the Thunder following the contest.

When asked on the fans ovation, Head Coach Mark Daigneault sent out praises, saying, “I’m not Oklahoman, but I’ve been here for eight years and I know Oklahomans have a pride for work ethic and rolling your sleeves up. We have a lot of faith this fanbase will grow with us.”

In conjunction with the fans’ outpour of support, the Thunder undisputedly posted their top game of the season thus far mounting the lead from tip-off until the back of the third quarter, clinging to a 15-point advantage at their peak. 

Oklahoma City placed the majority of their marbles on veterans Tuesday keeping Ty Jerome out, Isaiah Roby in a two-minute role, and Tre Mann in for a lowly 9 minutes to garner Kenrich Williams 25 minutes, and Mike Muscala 19 minutes, among other pieces.

The Thunder fired proficiently from all cylinders throughout the night shooting 41.6 percent (36-of-86 FG) from the floor, a season-best of 35.3 percent from distance (12-of-34 3PT), and 82.4 percent (14-of-17 FT) at the foul line, also topping their season charts. Oklahoma City failed to log 20 assists on the night with just 19, however, a red-hot isolation game from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander sacrificed ball movement for good looks while, in general, their passing game did end in solid attempts, just coming with bad breaks.

Golden State fought tooth-and-nail to stay in this game relying on a 42.1 percent (8-of-19 3PT) second-half clip from deep to finally take advantage while piggybacking off of an unsung hero in Damion Lee for 20 points (8-of-14 FG). Oklahoma City antagonized Steph Curry the entire way as outside of a few perimeter outbursts, he had been forced to pass, holding him to 23 points (6-of-14 FG) and 4 assists. To top the Warriors’ 20-point club, Andrew Wiggins harvested 21 points (9-of-17 FG) despite shooting 0-of-5 from distance.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander outshined Steph Curry on Tuesday, and almost managed to rally Oklahoma City back as a one-man-band. Gilgeous-Alexander tallied a game-high 30 points in the contest, glistening from the floor going 11-of-19 in full, and 4-of-5 from downtown. In the Thunder’s previous three games, the 23-year-old placed a 3-of-19 (15.8%) egg from distance, but with the flip of the switch, SGA transformed into a three-level terror, either torching the Warriors off the drive, or stepping back for threes. Gilgeous-Alexander’s touch around the basket became a focal point in this game as though he got to the line five times, drilling four, he had to get crafty with his drives tacking on mid-air reverses, contact absorption, and floaters, one of which being a moonshot. 

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl played an instrumental role in the contest as in his first career start he logged 12 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 assist. Robinson-Earl gelled into Oklahoma City’s starting unit seamlessly as the 20-year-old was a viable option as a pick-and-pop and standstill threat from three, shooting 2-of-4 on threes. Robinson-Earl’s presence made a monumental difference for floor spacing as his ability to rope his defender outside led for a heap of backdoor opportunities and isolations to the basket. Typically, the role of small-ball starting five has been delegated to Isaiah Roby, but given Robinson-Earl’s performance, there’s good reason to be asking for more of the rookie.

Lu Dort placed the Thunder’s third double-digit performance with 11 points, with 4 rebounds and 3 assists, though the Montreal native struggled from three going 1-of-5. Dort’s fallout from the three-point line has been relatively surprising given his 62.5% clip from deep in the preseason. Dort’s line from deep currently rests at 4-of-22 (18.2%), though the expectation is he’ll amp things back up soon. 

Josh Giddey finished the night with 7 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists across 27 minutes. Giddey struggled from the floor going 3-of-10, but it is worth noting the guard shot 1-of-3 at the perimeter. Giddey’s passing play didn’t always result in the assist column, but his on-ball, and even off-ball movement came into play to create looks.

The Oklahoma City Thunder (0-4) will take on the Los Angeles Lakers (2-2) Wednesday night in a back-to-back capper at the Paycom. The major storyline heading into tomorrow evening — Russell Westbrook’s return to Bricktown. 

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