The Oklahoma City Thunder (43-26) bounced back on Sunday afternoon with an easy 121-103 victory over the Washington Wizards (24-46). OKC never trailed in this one, and despite the fact that the Wizards are depleted and have already been eliminated from the playoffs, give the Thunder some credit for maintaining control from start to finish, even when shorthanded a bit as well.
Efficiency Wins the Day
The Thunder has struggled to shoot the ball lately, and so it has relied heavily on its defense. In some cases, like against the Lakers last Wednesday, the defense does enough to carry the team to a win. In others, like Friday’s letdown loss to the Grizzlies, the defense can’t get the necessary stops, and it ends poorly.
OKC’s defense wasn’t terrible against Washington. The Wizards shot just 41.3% from the field, 25.0% from three, and they turned it over 16 times. Still, it was the Thunder’s efficiency on offense that ultimately helped get the job done.
Chris Paul does a great job as OKC’s floor general, and he inspires ball movement any time he’s on the court. The result? The Thunder shot 51.2% overall, including 18-of-39 (46.2%) from three.
18 makes from downtown ties a season-high for OKC, but it wasn’t just hot shooting that helped the Thunder to a win. On top of the high-percentage shooting, the Thunder turned it over just 12 times, an area that has needed improvement.
As we draw nearer to the playoffs, it’s important that the Thunder offense is clicking, and even with several guys still missing due to various reasons, OKC is moving closer and closer to a quality product ready to take on anybody in the postseason.
Coming into Sunday’s matchup with the Wizards, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was in a bit of a funk. Over the previous two games, SGA had scored a total of only 13 points, and he was shooting well below his typical averages. Thankfully, he seemed to rebound a bit against Washington.
In 36 minutes of play, Shai scored 18 points on 6-of-12 (50.0%) from the field and 6-of-8 (75.0%) from the free throw line. He did miss both of his three-point attempts, but he spent a lot more time in this contest attacking the rim.
Scoring aside, SGA also finished with 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and a steal, all while turning it over just 2 times. Shai is capable of putting up big numbers, and while that is not always necessary for OKC to get the win, the Thunder cannot afford for him to be inefficient. Today’s performance got him headed in the right direction, though, so expect more good things in Monday’s game against the Phoenix Suns.
No Adams? No Noel? No Problem!
For the second consecutive game, Steven Adams was forced to sit with a lower left leg contusion. Also missing from today’s game was Nerlens Noel, a late scratch due to ankle soreness. Without their starting and backup center, the Thunder appeared to be in some trouble before the game even got started, but Mike Muscala slipped into the 5-spot, and OKC got along just fine.
Memphis dominated the Thunder in the paint on Friday in Adams’s absence, but that was not the case against the Wizards. As a team, OKC battled Washington in the paint just fine. The Wizards barely outscored the Thunder in the paint 48-42 and outrebounded OKC just 44-43.
Both Adams and Noel should be expected to play in Monday’s afternoon matchup with the Phoenix Suns, but OKC should be greatly encouraged by the team effort against Washington.
Thunder Player of the Game
After a rough outing against the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday, Darius Bazley flipped the script and put up one of the better performances of his rookie season.
Against the Wizards, Bazley poured in a career-high 23 points on 8-of-13 (61.5%) from the floor and 5-of-8 (62.5%) from downtown in 26 minutes. He also tallied 7 rebounds, an assist, and a steal, all while turning it over just one time.
Bazley’s role on the Thunder has varied, but since the restart in the bubble, he has been a solid option off the bench. Breakout performances like this one against Washington is just further proof that the future is very bright for the young man.
SEGABABA Against Phoenix
Next up for the Thunder is the second game of a back-to-back (SEGABABA) against the Phoenix Suns on Monday night. The Suns (31-39) are the hottest team in the bubble right now as they are the only team to win every one of their seeding games so far.
Riding that 5-game bubble win streak into Monday’s matchup with OKC, the Suns are still fighting for a playoff spot. If they keep up their streak, they very well could make that happen, but the Thunder hopes to stand in the way of that as they are still jockeying for a better spot in the standings as well.
Tip-off for Monday’s game is set for 1:30 PM CT, and it will be televised on Fox Sports Oklahoma. It will also be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM.