Bench Effort Fuels Thunder to Victory in Charlotte

After a terrific December for the Thunder, Oklahoma City has not played its best basketball as of late. Coming into tonight’s matchup with the Hornets in Charlotte, Oklahoma City had lost three in a row and five of their last seven, but thanks to a second-half turnaround by the defense and an impressive start to the fourth quarter by an all-bench lineup, the Thunder was able to pick up a win over the Hornets.

Oklahoma City started off the game strong with Terrance Ferguson knocking down a three just 20 seconds into the first quarter. 20 seconds later, Russell Westbrook grabbed a steal and found Paul George for a dunk in transition, which forced Charlotte to call a timeout less than a minute into the game.

The Hornets were able to get on the board out of the timeout, but the Thunder continued to find success as Steven Adams scored six straight points for Oklahoma City to take an 11-6 lead in just a little over four minutes of play.

Charlotte would tie the game up at 11-11, but it wouldn’t last long as Oklahoma City would go on a 10-0 run over the next couple of minutes led by Paul George, who knocked down back-to-back threes and a couple of free throws.

Oklahoma City would lead by as many as 12 when they took a 25-13 lead with 3:32 left in the first period, but Kemba Walker, who finished the quarter with nine points, would lead the Hornets back and after 12 minutes of play, the Thunder would hold a narrow 31-28 advantage.

Charlotte continued its scoring streak to take a 33-32 lead less than a minute into the second quarter. The Thunder would battle back and hold the advantage for most of the period, thanks mostly to Russell Westbrook, who put up 11 points on 5/7 from the field, but the Hornets would make a move in the final minute of the quarter, and at halftime, Oklahoma City trailed 55-59 to Charlotte.

The third quarter issues that the Thunder had dealt with earlier in the season seemed to disappear towards the end of December, but they had begun to resurface lately, and they showed up in a different sort of way tonight. Despite Oklahoma City’s defense locking in and holding Charlotte to 17 points on 7/23 (30.4%) from the field in the period, the offense was abysmal, scoring only 18 points on 6/25 (24%) shooting. Perhaps the only reason the Thunder stuck around was due to Steven Adams grabbing four offensive rebounds in the third quarter alone, but after three quarters, the Hornets held a 76-73 lead over the Thunder.

As bad as the Thunder had been for the previous two-and-a-half quarters, the fourth period was about as weird (in a good way) as it gets. Billy Donovan decided to go with an all-bench lineup to start the fourth, which is something he has done quite often recently, and at times it has actually proved to be beneficial. Today was one of those times.

After Raymond Felton missed a shot to start the quarter for Oklahoma City, the next three possessions featured three different players–Josh Huestis, Alex Abrines, and Patrick Patterson–knocking down shots from deep for the Thunder.

Felton would then score all eight of his points for the game over the course of the next four minutes, along with Jerami Grant putting in five points, and with just a little over six minutes left in the game, Oklahoma City led Charlotte 95-84.

As the starters would sub back in, it was clear that the game was pretty much in the bag, and despite not a lot of scoring to finish out the game, the Thunder would hold on to pick up just the third win in six tries in January to move to 9-13 on the road and 23-20 on the season.

Box Score

3 Quick Thoughts

  • Everybody Loves Raymond: While not the most exciting move in the offseason, Sam Presti signing Raymond Felton to a 1-year veteran’s minimum $2.3 million contract was perhaps the best addition in terms of value for the Oklahoma City Thunder. So far this season Felton has averaged 7.0 points on 42.3% shooting from the field and 34.6% from three, along with 2.5 assists and 2.0 rebounds. Perhaps more importantly than his stats is the level of leadership and maturity that Felton brings to the court whenever he is tasked with leading a very young bench unit. In a game like tonight, where not even the starters were shooting well, Felton was able to come in and play valuable minutes to start the fourth quarter, which ultimately gave the Thunder the victory. It is this type of leadership, both on and off the court, that can help a team go deep in the playoffs.
  • Even Without Dre, This Team Can Defend: The big issue with the continued absence of Andre Roberson has been the team’s inability to defend at a level anywhere near where they can when Roberson is in the starting lineup. Tonight’s second half, however, was proof that they are more than capable of doing so. After giving up 59 points on 53.8% shooting in the first half, Oklahoma City held Charlotte to just 32 points in the second half, the lowest scoring half by a Thunder opponent this season, on 27.3% shooting. Also in the second half, the Thunder was able to tally five steals and six blocks while forcing the Hornets into nine turnovers. It was Oklahoma City’s defense that started the game off hot for the Thunder, and in the end, it was what saved the game as well.
  • Time to Take Advantage: Oklahoma City has already blown a number of opportunities recently to move up the standings by dropping several games that they could (and should) have won, but it’s not too late to make some progress. The Thunder hosts the Sacramento Kings on Monday and the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday before hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers for another Saturday matinee. Both the Kings and the Lakers are two of the worst teams in the Western Conference, and the Cavs are currently on a three-game losing streak. Now is the time for Oklahoma City to string together some wins and take advantage of an opportunity to get a better spot in the conference standings.

Headed Home

The Oklahoma City Thunder now travel back home where they will host the Sacramento Kings on Monday Night. The Kings are 13-29 on the season and have lost three consecutive games and six of their last seven. The game will tip at 7 PM and will be televised on FSOK. The game will also be broadcast on WWLS 98.1 FM.

Be sure to check out our latest episode of Thunder Things with the Thunder Guys.

Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter & Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

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