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Thunder overthrow Spurs late, take home 99-94 victory in team-oriented play

With the Oklahoma City Thunder coming off of a three-game road trip, they fed off of the home-court crowd, dismantling the San Antonio Spurs 99-94. For the Thunder, their victory marks the franchise’s first back-to-back win streak since March 22, 2021, while also propping the group up to a 3-6 record. In the Spurs’ camp, this loss packs a punch as it stakes the group 13th in the conference with a 3-7 record ten games in.   

The Thunder opened Sunday’s contest finding a collection of good looks early, but they simply could not convert. With Oklahoma City’s early struggles, the San Antonio Spurs queued up a quick 4-0 strike, but as errant passes from Darius Bazley and Josh Giddey surfaced, San Antonio made due on the other end, ironing out a Doug McDermott three-ball and a Keldon Johnson fastbreak jam to tally a 9-0 run through three minutes. Off the timeout, Oklahoma City ended their 0-of-7 cold streak with a Darius Bazley alley-oop jam from Josh Giddey, but it didn’t take long for an answer as Drew Eubanks responded with a tip-in on the opposite end. San Antonio wavered around a seven-point lead as the quarter reached its midpoint, however an improvised 27-footer from Josh Giddey cut the game to five, and with another offensive exchange leading to a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and-one — the game stood at four. San Antonio locked in on the defensive end as the first quarter whittled down as a patch of stands, highlighted by a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander sidestep block. With the patch of defensive prowess, the Spurs notched a nine-point advantage with a little over two minutes to play. As second units swapped in to end the frame, the ongoing story of creating, but failing to cash in on open looks continued — finishing the frame off a Spurs 12-2 streak — being matched down 28-14. 

Oklahoma City found a bevy of open looks in the first frame, especially from distance, but the touch was frankly not there, ending the quarter off a 6-of-27 shot chart, and a 1-of-12 hit rate from beyond the arch. 

Derrick Favors ignited the Thunder’s second unit to start the second quarter as the big man generated a mid-range jumper off a botched Maledon drive, deflecting a Thaddeus Young pass that yielded a Ty Jerome layup in transition. Jerome got the lid off their three-point blockade following a Drew Eubanks hook shot as the shot cut the lead to single digits, but it was not meant to be as Eubanks willed his way inside again for an 11 point lead, prompting a Mark Daigneault timeout. Daigneault’s timeout continued to add solid glances at the rim with a pair of three-point opportunities for Theo Maledon, but those shots, in addition to a team-wide six-consecutive misses, held the Thunder scoreless until Mark Daigneault deployed another timeout at the seven-minute mark, down 36-21. Kenrich Williams pushed the Thunder out of their flat feet with a pair of free throws. Mike Muscala joined in on the fun a minute later sinking two free throws and a cutting dunk, but San Antonio was able to counter the attacks on the other end. Muscala became the primary source of offense after his initial gust, swishing two identical catch-and-shoot threes from the left corner before nailing a trifecta from the left wing to riddle off 13-consecutive points and force Gregg Popovich’s hand with a timeout. San Antonio made it a must to close off Muscala post-timeout, paving the way for a pair of Spurs makes, including a Devin Vassell alley-oop slam to go up 15 with a minute to go. In the half’s final possession, Oklahoma City got the last laugh as a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander drive-and-dish found Lu Dort open at the right-wing — the buzzer-beater was good, lowering the margin to a 55-45 deficit come halftime. 

The Thunder lacked any level of consistency to start the game as they barely clipped the 30-percent mark shooting 15-of-46 (31.1%) to start the night, getting a bad aftertaste with a 6-of-24 (25.0%) hit rate from downtown. Oklahoma City did an astounding job creating open looks, assisting on 11-of-14 shots, however, their three pointers never got the right bounce. Mike Muscala sourced Oklahoma City’s only reliable source of points as the 30-year-old tallied 14 points in 7 minutes, shooting a clean 4-of-4.

The Spurs toyed with a 50-percent clip for the first half, ending the 24-minute serving shooting 47.2 percent off a 25-of-53 plate. San Antonio shot well from distance shooting at 5-of-15, however, they faltered with zero tries at the line. Despite the lack of free throws, they regained their territory inside as big man Drew Eubanks capped the half going a perfect 5-of-5 for 10 points and 8 rebounds in the half. The Spurs’ point distribution permeated throughout the roster as Keldon Johnson and Lonnie Walker IV both harvested double-digits with 12 and 10 points, respectively. 

Oklahoma City carved their way into single digits to open the second half as Jeremiah Robinson-Earl cashed in on a driving layup before a Drew Eubanks charge pushed the ball the other way. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl came up big yet again as on the ensuing drive a JRE high-ball screen found the 20-year-old wide open up top for a catch-and-shoot three to cut the game to five. Off a Lu Dort shooting foul, Mark Daigneault exhausted a challenge on the play, but an unsuccessful ruling posted Doug McDermott at the line — he shanked both. The Spurs continued to tack on twos despite the free-throw mishap, though Shai Gilgeous-Alexander played one-man-band converting on a stepback and three and two layins for seven-straight for the Thunder, and with a Josh Giddey finger roll a play later, San Antonio’s lead had been chopped to four, forcing a Popovich timeout. The Thunder continued to strike after the Spurs’ timeout as Lu Dort forced his way inside for a layup before a Jeremiah Robinson-Earl cashed in on a right-winged three, notching Oklahoma City their first lead of the game with five minutes to go in the quarter. After an exchange of baskets, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander pushed the Thunder’s lead to three before a missed Bazley flush in transition left Lu Dort wide open under the basket, throwing the ball down over two Spurs members tripped up on the floor. Oklahoma City rose the bar to a six-point lead as the game seeped inside two minutes. Energy bled throughout the Thunder’s rotation to end the frame as the group salvaged three offensive rebounds off a singular possession, capping the play with a loose ball scramble that netted Mike Muscala and-one pickup around the cup. The Thunder’s turnaround hit its highest point in the last breaths of the period as Aleksej Pokusevski bumped Oklahoma City up 10 off a right corner triple. By the quarter buzzer, the Thunder outscored the Spurs 34-14, holding a ten-point, 79-69 advantage going into the fourth. 

San Antonio hit the ground running to tee off the fourth as the Spurs lowered the game to six off of two hits. In response, Ty Jerome tampered with a highlight as the guard slashed from the left baseline to dump off a behind-the-pass pass to Derrick Favors, but San Antonio had it ratted out — forcing a miss. With the baby steps to a comeback push, Daigneault called a timeout two minutes into the frame, but a quick-trigger attempt off the stoppage did no justice, leading to a Tre Jones floater on the other side. The Spurs’ early push expanded to a 9-0 stint as Bryn Forbes sliced the game to one, though Ty Jerome swung the pendulum back up to three with a floater of his own. Oklahoma City hovered around a single possession lead by the midway point, but as San Antonio found their second shot at the stripe, they regained a one-point lead at 84-83. Darius Bazley left in Paycom Center in a state of eruption as the 21-year-old swished a left corner triple to capture a two-point lead, and then turned the night into a dunk contest, swooping inside for a standing putback dunk that saw his arm extend two feet over the iron to go up four. Oklahoma City squandered a Keldon Johnson layup trying to steer momentum, but they veered right back on track collecting a steal and block to check in a Kenrich Williams layup and a Jeremiah Robinson-Earl catch-and-shoot three to pioneer a 10-2 run for a 93-86 lead, and a Spurs timeout. Oklahoma City stood firm on the following defensive possession, turning the stoppage into the immediate offense as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander lofted a halfcourt alley-oop to Jeremiah Robinson-Earl — ending in a two-handed jam. The game coasted into the two-minute warning action free, but as soon as the time passed Thaddeus Young delivered as he clashed into Mike Muscala for an and-one runner, missing the trip at the stripe. Thaddeus Young made up for the lost trip harvesting the second chance, converting on a layup to cut the game to five. After a missed Thunder bucket, San Antonio ran straight back down for another trip at the line, sinking both for a three-point venture. On the other end, Josh Giddey took the reins up top, driving right-wing on Dejounte Murray before driving inside, dragging in multiple defenders, and hitting Lu Dort around the cup for a two-handed jam. San Antonio gunned into transition to snag some points, and with Keldon Johnson going up, it yielded success as the game dropped back down to three with 47 seconds to go. In Oklahoma City’s potential game-sealer, Darius Bazley looked to drive in for the dagger, however, he reevaluated, passing the ball up to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for a shot. In Shai’s attempt, he struggled to create off Dejounte Murray, leading to a contested three that failed to hit the rim. With 22.9 seconds to go, San Antonio kept active with high-ball screens settling on a Lonnie Walker IV jumper with under 10 seconds to go — no good. Off a fight for the rebound, Mike Muscala snagged the loose change, putting him to the line for two — and setting him in place for the two final daggers — he hit both. Thunder win it 99-94.  

The Thunder’s victory displayed the rewards of playing in unison as though no particular star emerged from the pack, five members of the roster logged double-digits. In all, Oklahoma City shot a barren 37.2 percent (35-of-94 FG) from the floor and 29.3 percent (12-of-41 3PT) from distance, they wreaked havoc at the stripe shooting 17-of-20 at the line. 

For the Spurs, they shot a hefty 41-of-100 from the floor, however, their lack of a three (6-of-20 3PT) in addition to a feeble distribution at the charity stripe, going just 6-of-9. San Antonio kept their options, logging seven members in double-digits, highlighted by Keldon Johnson boasting 22, however, as soon as they fell on the outside looking in, their lack of a perimeter game stung.

Mike Muscala took home MVP honors for Sunday as the 30-year-old recorded a team-high 20 points along with 4 rebounds in just 14 minutes of run. The Moose ran rampant this game as his second-quarter outburst from distance turned the tides of the contest, while his late-game conversions both inside and at the foul line sent the game in the Thunder’s direction. Muscala cooked at all three levels shooting 5-of-6 in all, 3-of-4 from beyond-the-arch, and 7-of-9 at the line.

“I don’t know if Mike knows this, but I look up to him,” said Darius Bazley postgame. “I was super happy for him. I thought what he did [throughout the night] kinda got us going. I just feel like that’s something that should be acknowledged.”

Similar to Muscala, Darius Bazley ramped up his play on Sunday, tracking co-MVP honors with an astute 11-point, 11-rebound double-double, coated with 4 assists in 32 minutes. Though Bazley didn’t sky up the board in his point total, the forward undoubtedly recorded his best game of the year on Sunday. Bazley’s five-point outburst to dig the Thunder out of their first fourth-quarter deficit set the tone for the remainder of play while in the final minute, Baze opted to kick the ball back up top to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as opposed to slicing inside for a look. Baze’s play came with almost no hiccups as the forward nailed his lone three while working behind the scenes around the cup to reap rewards. Best of all, Baze’s recognition to spread the love throughout the game was infectious, leading to an array of open looks. 

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander played a backseat role in this game as Sunday marked the first time the 23-year-old has failed to lead the Thunder in scoring all season, however, he dominated in all categories posting 14 points, 8 rebounds, and 9 assists. Gilgeous-Alexander couldn’t get it going from distance (1-of-6 3PT), so instead, he took on a massive haul, slashing inside for drive-and-dish opportunities. The guard rifled out a handful of dishes to the corner on Sunday, though with hot-handed bigs at his disposal — his pick-and-pop passing was lethal.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl was the main benefactor of Gilgeous-Alexander’s assists this game as the 20-year-old churned out 13 points and 4 rebounds in 24 minutes of run. The rookie hounded San Antonio from distance as he canned 3-of-5 attempts from deep range, one of which coming off of a closeout. Robinson-Earl played a key role in dwindling San Antonio’s lead, and with the second-rounder shooting 9-of-20 from deep thus far — it’ll be interesting to see when defenses place an emphasis on him.

Lu Dort dazzled in 13 points on Sunday, sticking to an attack-based regimen to reap the rewards. Dort struggled yet again from three shooting 1-of-7, with his only made basket coming from a buzzer-beater to bottle the half. Dort put a bandage on the outside struggles amassing a pair of standing dunks off of broken coverages in addition to a sum of looks coming off of the drive.

Josh Giddey had a rough going as a shooter Sunday going 3-of-10, though he did carve out a space with 7 rebounds and 4 assists. The Aussie never quite found his stride from distance shooting 1-of-6 on threes, with his only make coming off an improv hit. Though, even without San Antonio playing the 19-year-old tight up top, he still splotched in a basket of kick-outs throughout the evening.

Kenrich Williams played a reliable role on the defensive end while adding 7 points and 4 rebounds. The 26-year-old shot an iffy 2-of-7 on the night, but the TCU product did still hit a solid benchmark, reaching his 1000th career point in the contest.

Vit Krejci also made history alongside Williams in this game as after participating in the Oklahoma City Blue’s 11 am home game, the 21-year-old snuck onto the court for five seconds of the third quarter. With the cameo appearance, Krejci became the first player to play for the Thunder and Blue for the same evening, while also placing the 59th occurrence in which a player has played across both leagues on the same day.

The Oklahoma City Thunder (3-6) will take a three-day vacation before taking on the New Orleans Pelicans (1-9) on Wednesday evening. If the Thunder salvage a win on Wednesday, it will mark the franchise’s first three-game win streak since January 10, 2021.

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