The Thunder Lowdown | Game #9: So Much for Tanking

The Oklahoma City Thunder wrapped up a 5-game road trip on Sunday night as they knocked off Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets 129-116 at Barclays Center. Tanking does not seem to be on the agenda as the victory moves the Thunder to 5-4 on the season, and they continue to win games they probably have no business even competing in.

Shai Gives Brooklyn the Star Treatment

In his first season as the commander-in-chief of the Thunder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has performed admirably. We are just 9 games in, and while his stat lines haven’t been pristine, it’s obvious that he’s doing whatever it takes to lead his team to victory. Tonight was no different as he recorded 31 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 2 steals.

SGA’s shooting numbers have been somewhat average, but tonight was his most impressive game of the season as he knocked down 11-of-16 (68.8%) from the field, including 2-of-4 (50.0%) from downtown. He also made 7-of-8 (87.5%) free throw attempts.

While his shooting efficiency and ability to score will get the most attention, the most exciting part of his performance tonight was his distribution of the ball. Shai scored early and often, and by the second half, he did a great job of finding the open man. He is quietly averaging 6.9 assists per game, which is top 15 in the league.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander showed flashes of brilliance as a rookie, and in his second season as a pro a year ago, it was obvious that he had potential to be special. This season, however, there’s no deniability: he’s going to be a star in this league for a long time.

Defense Sticks With It After Awful 1st Quarter

After 12 minutes of basketball, the Nets led the Thunder 41-29. OKC’s offense was fine, but the defense was abysmal. You simply cannot win games with any regularity if you give up 40+ points in a quarter.

The Thunder turned up the defense after that, though, allowing Brooklyn to score just 22 points in the second quarter and 18 points in the third. The energy and intensity was obvious from starters to bench, and a 13-point lead headed into the fourth quarter was enough to give OKC the victory despite giving up 35 points in the final 12 minutes.

The Nets came into the game averaging 16 turnovers a game, and they ended up with 17 tonight. There’s no way the Thunder wins this game if they don’t flip the script on the defensive energy from the first quarter, but they didn’t give up, and the effort completely changed the result of the game.

Hami is Different in His Hometown

Hamidou Diallo is from NYC, so it makes sense that he would perform with a little extra finesse against the Knicks on Friday night and the Nets tonight.

Last season, he averaged just 6.9 points per game, and never scored more than 13 points in a game except when he put up 27 against the Clippers in the final game of the Bubble regular season. So far this season, he’s been a different animal.

After scoring 23 points against the Knicks 2 days ago, Diallo put up 25 points against the Nets tonight, and he did it while knocking down 10-of-14 (71.4%) of his shots from the floor. Hami has earned a reputation as being a freak athlete without much polish, but with the way he’s been playing lately, he’s been right in the thick of OKC’s development.

Thunder Unsung Hero of the Game

Mike Muscala did not play against the Nets, and while I’m not exactly sure why Mark Daigneault held him out, Isaiah Roby filled in just fine, earning him tonight’s unsung hero title.

In just 19 minutes of play, Roby scored 13 points, shooting 5-of-7 (71.4%) from the floor, while grabbing 5 rebounds. A few weeks ago, I didn’t think Roby would ever see the floor. Since then, he’s filled in for Al Horford in the starting lineup in one game, which earned him consistent minutes, and now he’s developing into yet another role player for OKC.

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