The Oklahoma City Thunder (10-12) started a 4-game road trip on the right foot by picking up a 108-96 victory over the Trail Blazers in Portland.
After a tight first quarter, the Thunder picked it up in the second to take an 18-point lead at one point, but the Blazers fought back. At the half, OKC led 55-47.
The Thunder has not been great in third quarters so far this season, and tonight was somewhere along those lines. The Blazers managed to get right back into the game and even take a brief lead, but at the end of the third, OKC was on top of Portland 82-78.
Oklahoma City was able to maintain control, but with fewer than 5 minutes remaining in the game, the Thunder was ahead by just 4 points. OKC kicked it into high gear, though finishing strong for the second consecutive night as 15-5 run put the Thunder on top by double digits, which sealed the deal in Portland.
Is Shai A Finisher?
All season long, the Thunder has struggled to finish games, even when leading, because of a lack of a clear leader. Chris Paul is the future Hall of Famer, so it makes sense to trust him with the ball. Danilo Gallinari is a sharpshooter, so it makes sense to give him the final shot. But both of these guys, and perhaps others along with them, are likely on their way out the door.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the future of the franchise, but at 21 years old and in just his second season in the NBA, putting the ball into his hands is a tall order.
So far this season, Shai has had the opportunity to win games for OKC, but he’s not been able to come through. Nobody blamed him due to his youth, and it was only a matter of time before his time would come. That moment came last Friday with a big finish in overtime against the Minnesota Timberwolves, and again tonight to finish off the Trail Blazers.
SGA finished the game tied for a team-high with 21 points, but 14 of those came in the final frame, and 10 of those came in the final 6:09 of the game, kicked off by a driving layup when the Thunder was leading by only 4 points.
While it’s still too early to crown Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as Oklahoma City’s next savior, it’s never too early to start talking about the potential he has and just how special of a player he can become.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
As cliché as it may sound, basketball is a team sport. When the team plays well together, wins are going to come one way or another. After the Thunder had 5 different players score 20+ points on Friday in the overtime win against Minnesota—a feat never before attained by the franchise—Oklahoma City saw 5 different guys score in double digits tonight.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (21), Dennis Schröder (21), Chris Paul (20), Nerlens Noel (13) and Danilo Gallinari (12) all scored in double digits, and that is becoming more normal than not in OKC, it seems.
For the first 11 season of OKC’s franchise, the Thunder has always had clear superstars who were capable of putting up big points. Because of that, there has been a lack of consistent role players at times. Now that there is no real superstar at the helm of the Thunder offense, the ball gets moved around significantly more, thus opening up the opportunity for more players to get buckets.
While this team will likely look drastically different by the end of the season, and while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (and who know who else) will continue to bloom and become more of a focal point in the offense, I think it’s important for the young core to learn to trust each other, play together, and learn to score together.
The Road Trip Continues
The Thunder continues their 4-game road trip with the second game of a back-to-back Monday night in Utah against the Jazz (13-10). The Jazz have played below their potential for much of the season, and they have won just 2 of their last 7 games, both against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Tip-off for that game is at 8 PM, and it be televised on Fox Sports Oklahoma. It will also be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM.
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