The Oklahoma City Thunder entered Friday night’s matchup with the Chicago Bulls winless at Chesapeake Energy Arena. 0-5 at home, the Thunder was literally the only remaining team in the NBA without a home win.
After trailing by as many as 22 in the third quarter, it looked like the losing streak would continue, but Luguentz Dort and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had other plans.
Dort scored 15 points and grabbed 3 steals in a 7-minute span in the third quarter to trim the 22-point deficit to just 3 when he checked out with 2 minutes left in the period. Then in the fourth, it was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who went into complete takeover mode.
Trailing 101-90 with 9:36 left in the game, the Thunder desperately needed its floor general to make something happen, and when Shai Gilgeous-Alexander checked into the game, he did just that. Shai’s 12 fourth quarter points, including a 3-point play to tie up the game with 16.4 seconds left, pushed the game to overtime.
Shai finished off his night with a career-high 33 points on an efficient 13-of-19 (68.4%) shooting night. He also dished out 10 assists, grabbed 5 rebounds, and grabbed a steal, all while turning the ball over just once. In the end, he led the Thunder to a 127-125 overtime victory over the Bulls.
Luguentz Dort: Most Improved Player?
It’s easy to look at a roster as young and inexperienced as the Thunder’s and see improvement across the board. A number of players have made incredible jumps in their abilities, but none perhaps as big as Luguentz Dort.
After not being selected in the 2019 NBA Draft, Thunder GM Sam Presti signed Dort to a 2-way contract, where he would play for the OKC Blue. Before long, Dort found his way into the Thunder’s starting lineup, and the rest is history.
Last season, Lu Dort wasn’t exactly a sharpshooter from beyond the arc. He had a few games where he looked deadly, but for the season, he knocked down just 30-of-101 (29.7%) three-point attempts, but so far this season, he’s already hit 28-of-65 (43.1%). Adding that to his already impressive defensive repertoire has turned him into one of the league’s best up-and-coming two-way players.
Luguentz Dort is consistently Oklahoma City’s spark plug, and tonight, he was the one who willed the Thunder back into the game with his third quarter performance. Dort finished with 21 points, 8 rebounds, and a career-high 6 steals.
At this point, it’s only fair to start putting him into the NBA’s Most Improved Player conversation. It will likely be tough for him to actually win the award because of the fact that the Thunder will very likely not win very many games, but there’s no denying his growth through the first 12 games of the season.
Thunder Unsung Hero of the Game
Oklahoma City doesn’t have the deepest bench, but it seems like almost every night, somebody steps up to contribute. Tonight, that guy was Kenrich Williams, and he is without a doubt the Thunder’s unsung hero.
Coming into the game, Williams was averaging just 2.6 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 1 assist in 10.7 minutes. Tonight, however, was a much different result as he put up a well-rounded stat line of 14 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals. More importantly than numbers, though, was the energy and effort that he brought to the court, as well as the timeliness of his contributions.
Kenrich Williams will likely be nothing more than an end-of-the-bench guy who comes in to provide some energy for a few plays, but there’s no doubt that any time he steps on the court, he will absolutely bring everything he has with him.