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Thunder blast by Rockets 101-89

With the Oklahoma City Thunder putting a wrap on a four-game homestand, the Thunder trumped the Rockets 101-89. Oklahoma City’s victory inches them back into the play-in picture as the group now hangs at 6-8. In the case of the Rockets, their placehold as bottom-dwellers remains as the roster holds a 1-13 record on the year.

The Thunder flipped the script in Wednesday’s meetup, as following an opening week 124-91 pummetling against the Rockets — Daigneault’s crew silenced Houston to a mere 89 points — their third-lowest point total of the year.

“There’s always a shot-making element to the game. The last time we played them, they took it to us,” said Daigneault. “Those outcomes are somewhat random. We just try to focus on significant progress.”

Oklahoma City pushed Houston’s buttons from the get-go en route to a 7-0 opening push, but a late surge from the Rockets cinched the game to a 22-19 grudge match in the first 12 minutes. 

The second frame, however, spelled off the Thunder’s colossal strike.

Led by Daigneault’s “bench mob,” the Thunder’s second unit lit a fire across the rotation. Tre Mann ran out guns blazing in the frame recording seven of the groups first 11 points off of two stepbacks and a pair of free throws — and upon insertion of the starters — the touch continued. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who went scoreless in the first period, caught wind in the backend of the half with three-consecutive layups to ignite a 17-10 closing run, and a 12-point, 53-41 lead at half. 

Oklahoma City rallied around Lu Dort in the first half, as after a four-game patch of 20+ scoring games, the former Sun Devil beamed to the tune of 11 first-quarter quarter points, and 16 tally marks by the end of the half across 7-of-9 shooting. Dort’s rally cry tapped into the Thunder’s shot chart at half as the group posted a 46-percent hit rate from the floor.

For the Rockets, their first half campaign surfaced a feeble vein of scorers as Jae’Sean Tate handled their sole double-digit scoring output in the half. The group shot a murky 35 percent through 24 minutes while sulking in a 5-of-19 (26.3%) roadbump from distance.

The Thunder endured multiple quick-fire attempts from the Rockets in the third quarter, carving out a mid-quarter 9-0 run between Josh Giddey and Darius Bazley to claim a 16-point lead by the midway point. Oklahoma City’s duo of stars banded together to put an end on the frame as Lu Dort and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander tacked on the Thunder’s final eight points to jab an 80-64 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.

Houston blasted off in the fourth period en route to a 14-5 opening run, and a seven-point contest as the game whittled to the nine-minute mark. With the tides of play swaying in the Rockets’ direction, Lu Dort kept the Thunder afloat for three-straight minutes as the 22-year-old canned two threes and a pair of free throws for eight-consecutive team points to post Oklahoma City up double-digits heading into the final four minutes. The Rockets shot the game back down in the final three minutes of play, but all sense of momentum was wiped by an instant — all thanks to Lu Dort. In Dort’s punctuation mark, the guard slashed in from the left wing in efforts to snag a rebound. With rookie Jalen Green in full position to snag the ball, Dort elevated over the 19-year-old for a one-handed putback slam that put an end to the game. By the horn, Oklahoma City stood on the high side 101-89. 

The Thunder’s victories to this point have been heavily centralized around finding themselves in double-digit deficits before clawing out for jaw-dropping comeback wins. Wednesday evening’s play broke the pattern. Houston’s closest taste to the lead came upon tip-off as the Rockets never led in this game, instead playing catch-up for the full 48-minute slate. 

Oklahoma City locked up Houston from start-to-finish, holding the Rockets to a lowly 35-percent conversion rate from the floor and a 28-percent going from distance. As for their own efforts, the Thunder riddled off a 45-percent clip to hold up a shaky 26-percent outing from the perimeter.

Jalen Green led Houston on Wednesday as the rookie logged a team-high 21 points on 6-of-14 shooting. The former No. 2 Pick searched for baskets from all areas of the floor, but the 19-year-old honed in on the interior — shooting just 3-of-9 from distance. Christian Wood obliterated the Thunder’s small-ball unit to the tune of 31 points and 14 rebounds in their last meeting, but the 25-year-old was bottled up on Wednesday — recording 10 points and 14 rebounds on a 4-of-16 shot chart.  

Lu Dort shipped out his season-high Wednesday evening as the 22-year-old compiled 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 assists in 37 minutes. Dort orchestrated as the Thunder’s top option as the guard shot 14-of-22 from the floor while drilling 4-of-11 tries from downtown. Dort’s emphatic play in both the opening and closing segments of this game yielded the guard a ripe 23 points in the 24-minute punch while putting the game away with his fourth-quarter putback. Dort’s shot chart was a stat-junkies dream as he placed all 11 of his shots in the paint and 11 shots from distance — none in the midrange. 

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander tinkered with a triple-double as the guard racked up 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 9 assists in 27 minutes. Gilgeous-Alexander caught the majority of his points in the sunset stages of the first half, but beyond that, the 23-year-old’s efficiency was subpar at best. SGA’s play netted a 6-of-18 shot chart with futile success from downtown on a 1-of-8 scope. With Gilgeous-Alexander’s struggles, he managed to carve out a role with a game-high nine rebounds while also getting feisty on the defensive end for four steals.

Josh Giddey made the record books for the second time on Wednesday, becoming the second-youngest player to clock a double-double (19 years, 38 days.) The kicker — Giddey also holds the first-place honors as the youngest project to piece a double-double. Giddey etched out 14 points and a team-high 11 rebounds. Giddey took all but three of his 14 shots in the painted area, wiggling his way into a floater-dominated performance.

The Oklahoma City Thunder (6-8) will take a one-day break before embarking on a back-to-back set starting Friday against the Milwaukee Bucks (7-8.) 

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