The Oklahoma City Thunder put up their best effort against the visiting Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night, but the late push to keep the game close could only go so far. After trailing by 18 with 9 minutes left in the game, OKC managed to cut the deficit to 10, but that was as close as it would get before losing 115-103. The loss moves the Thunder to 0-3 on the season, and with the tough schedule ahead, it doesn’t appears as if a win may come any time soon.
Still, there is plenty to be excited about. After two blowout losses on the road to kick off the 2021-22 campaign, it was encouraging to see OKC be competitive, especially for the home opener. While the losses may come in waves—with the wins coming on rare occasion—the Thunder can compete if they play with the same energy that they had tonight.
Shai is Fine
Through the first two games, it appeared as if Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the face of the Thunder franchise, was lost. Fresh off the recent signing of a max contract extension, this was supposed to be the year that SGA truly broke out and proved to the rest of the league that he was an All Star. That wasn’t the case, however, as he managed just 31 points combined in the first two games on 13-of-32 (40.6%) shooting, including 2-of-13 (15.4%) from downtown.
Against the Sixers, Shai saw his numbers bump a bit as he poured in 29 points on 9-of-19 (47.4%), but still just 1-of-6 (16.7%) from three. His three-point shooting obviously needs to rebound and get back to the 41.8% that he shot last season.
Shai looked closer to his normal self in other areas, as well, dishing out 8 assists against Philly after just 2 in each of the first two games. After just 5 trips to the free throw line through two games, he managed to get to the line 12 times on Sunday night, knocking down 10 of the attempts.
It’s still really early in the season, so making any kind of blanket statements about a player is absurd. Still, I think we can say with some level of certainty that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is going to make a name for himself this season, and it’s going to happen on a national level.
Don’t Doubt Dort
The season just started, but I’ve already seen a bit of slander about Luguentz Dort. Some people still don’t believe that he’s worthy of being a starter, but tonight proved exactly why he’s the type of energy a team needs late in a game, especially when trying to stage a comeback.
With 9 minutes left in the game, the Thunder trailed the Sixers 98-80, and the game was essentially over. This would have been a great time for a tanking team to sub out the starters and let the young guys get some run, but Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault decided to let his guys try to make a push to get it close.
Insert Luguentz Dort onto the scene.
Dort did what he does best, and he injected some of his intense effort on the defensive end of the floor to give his team the energy that was necessary to turn a blowout into a reasonable game. Dort went to work on defense, forcing multiple turnovers in a short amount of time, and on the offensive end, he managed to score 6 points and hand out an assist in the last few minutes of the game.
Luguentz Dort is not exactly likely to become an NBA All Star. He probably will not win the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year. Still, his level of effort and energy that brings to the game on a nightly basis is all the proof I need to know that he’s going to be a solid contributor for a long time.
Thunder Player of the Game
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander would be a good choice because of his impressive performance overall, but rookie Josh Giddey earns Thunder Player of the Game honors, not only because of how he played, but because of the timing of so many of his big plays.
Giddey brought energy to the court at all the right times Sunday night. After scoring just 10 points combined in his first two games, he managed to score 19 on 8-of-13 (61.5%) shooting. He also pulled down 8 rebounds, handed out 7 assists, and grabbed 4 steals.
Giddey is already showing flashes of brilliance and in more than one area. He’s a dynamic scorer and a natural rebounder, but his passing ability is unmatched among young players. Giddey’s 14 assists through the first 3 games lead the Thunder, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he keeps up that type of production, especially if his teammates can hit shots at a higher rate than they have so far this season.
Warriors in Town
Thunder fans won’t have to wait long to watch the good guys play another basketball game as the Golden State Warriors come to town on Tuesday. The Warriors have had a strong start to the season with wins against both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers, and Steph Curry is already looking like a solid MVP candidate.
Tip-off is scheduled for 7 PM on Tuesday, and the game will be televised on Bally Sports Network. It will also be broadcast on the radio on WWLS 98.1 FM.