The Oklahoma City Thunder kicked off the second half of the season with an impressive 116-108 win against a Dallas Mavericks squad who was missing both Luka Dončić and Kristaps Porzingis. Despite the lack of star power for the Mavs, they were still able to make the game interesting in the end. It wasn’t enough, however, as the Thunder finished strong behind a good old-fashioned team effort.
No Rust, Just Rest
Regardless of who was missing from the game for the Mavericks, the Thunder looked like the week of rest from the NBA All-Star Weekend did them some good. Despite struggling in the final few minutes, the Thunder was dominant for most of the game.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander paced the Thunder with a game-high 32 points, marking his 8th 30-point game of the season. He added 6 assists, and 2 rebounds as well. Aside from Shai’s scoring explosion, OKC’s 4 other starters finished with double-digit points as well. Al Horford had 21 points, Aleksej Pokusevski and Luguentz Dort had 14 each, and Théo Maledon had 11. Tack on the 9 points from Isaiah Roby and 8 from Moses Brown, and the Thunder had pretty much everyone chipping in.
As a team, the Thunder knocked down 16-of-32 (50.0%) from downtown, and despite the Mavs getting 13 more free throw attempts, OKC shot much more efficiently from the charity stripe, knocking down 18-of-20 (90.0%) attempts compared to 23-of-33 (70.0%) by Dallas.
Perhaps the biggest impact in the game was the Thunder’s ability to outrebound the Mavs 55 to 37. OKC had 16 offensive rebounds which turned into 13 second-chance points, and they managed to put up 50 points total in the paint. On top of all of that, OKC turned the ball over just 9 times, well below their season average.
Overall, the Thunder did enough early, and despite nearly giving up the lead at the end, they were able to hold on for the win.
Did We Prematurely Judge Poku?
A little over a month ago, Thunder rookie Aleksej Pokusevski was sent down to the bubble in Florida to get some time with the OKC Blue in the G League. Prior to that, he had played in 17 games for the Thunder, recording less than impressive averages of 3.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 1.3 turnovers in 17.4 minutes per outing.
After a decent showing with the Blue, he made his return to OKC during the All-Star Break, and tonight, he made his first career start for the Thunder, filling in for for the injured Darius Bazley. When I first heard the news, I was a bit baffled and slightly annoyed, but I figured maybe this was a passive-aggressive way of attempting to tank right out of the gate to start the second half of the season. I was wrong.
In his first career start, Poku was nothing short of impressive. Maybe it was my incredibly low expectations for the guy, but I think he really did just put together a solid game in the time that he was on the court. In 30 minutes, he managed a stat line of 14 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks. Not only did he shoot (and make) his first career free throws, he hit a clutch 3 in the final minute of the game to help the Thunder extend their late lead.
Just like we can’t judge a man’s career based off his first 17 games, we certainly shouldn’t put too much stock into one appearance in the starting lineup, but still, I’m more than encouraged by his output with the starters tonight.
Thunder Unsung Hero of the Game
Moses Brown is a name that many Thunder fans may not be familiar with just yet. The 7’2″ big man is in his second year in the league, his first in Oklahoma City, and prior to tonight, he had appeared in just 7 games, averaging 4.4 minutes of play. After a strong performance for the Blue in the G League, he may slowly be working his way into a little bit of court time. Either way, he had an impressive night tonight against the Mavs.
In just 19 minutes of court time, Brown recorded 8 points, 12 rebounds, and a block, and he could’ve had a double-double had he been more efficient around the rim. The NBA is past the era of the big man, but I can see Brown getting some minutes here and there, particularly against teams that have a big guy who needs a solid matchup.
Saturday Matinee at the ‘Peake
Next up for the Thunder is the 2nd game of a 3-game homestand when they host the New York Knicks on Saturday afternoon. The Knicks are fresh off an embarrassing 33-point loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, but at 19-19, they are 7th in the Eastern Conference standings, which is unfamiliar territory for a team that has missed the playoffs for the last 7 years.
The Thunder has owned the Knicks in recent years, winning the last 4 matchups by an average of 19.5 points. This one should be considerably closer, though.
Tip-off for the game is set for 1 PM and will be televised on Fox Sports Oklahoma. It will also be broadcast on the radio on WWLS 98.1 FM.