THE REPORTERS’ NOTEBOOK
The Big Picture
Back on the road after one quick game at home, the young Thunder left it all out on the floor. Against a surging Sacramento Kings squad, who sits in third in the Western Conference, OKC fought to the finish, even if its offense in the second half didn’t keep pace with its output over the first 24 minutes.
After scoring 66 points in the first half, the Thunder’s shooting regressed back to the mean and OKC only notched 47 second half points, while Sacramento took advantage on the glass (+16), with a 21-2 edge in second chance points and at the free throw line (28-11 advantage in attempts). Still, the Thunder got an All-Star level performance from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with 37 points and seven assists, while Isaiah Joe poured in 21 points on seven-made 3s.
Despite being down by 10 with 52.8 seconds to go, the Thunder scrapped back to within just three points with 2.5 seconds to go. The Kings got a bucket on the inbounds pass, and the final result was a 118-113 Thunder loss.
Nick: In the midst of some breakneck basketball to start the game where there were no timeouts or free throws for the first seven minutes, the Thunder manufactured a nine-point lead by turning defense into offense. After OKC forced two previous turnovers on Domantas Sabonis, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander laid in wait as the strong-side help defender on a De’Aaron Fox drive down the right slot. Shai got his hand into the dribble path, ripping the ball and running up the floor to create a 2-on-1 fast break with Josh Giddey. Slipping a deft bounce pass to Giddey, Shai picked up one of his 7 assists in the game as he eclipsed the 1,000 assist mark since joining the Thunder.
Paris: Rookie Jaylin Williams stepped into his sixth start of his career. The big man operated as a screen setter within OKC’s offense and took the responsibility of defending Sacramento’s big man Domantas Sabonis. Williams rolled out of a screen set for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who bounced the ball down the middle of the lane to J-Will and finished the layup through contact. It was an and-one for J-Will and the first free throws of the contest with just 4:48 left in the first frame. By the end of the night, Williams finished with four points and six boards.
Paris: On back to back possessions, Josh Giddey found Lu Dort behind the arc for a 3-pointer. By the 10-minute mark of the second quarter, Dort had already drained three 3-pointers marking his 18th game this season with three or more made triples. The Thunder’s offense generated 12 3-pointers in the first half shooting at a 57-percent clip thanks to drive and kicks and ball movement within the half-court. Dort and Isaiah Joe both played a big factor in the barrage as they combined for seven of those 3s alone.
Nick: There was an excellent moment of synergy between Lu Dort and Kenrich Williams on a two-man game give-and-go through the middle of the floor. Dort pinged a pass in to Williams at the free throw line, then Kenrich sent the ball right back to Dort as he darted down the right slot for a quick layup, plus the foul by De’Aaron Fox. Dort scored all 15 of his points in the first half points. It was one of 3 assists for Williams, who is in the top 10 in the NBA in assist to turnover ratio.
Against Sacramento, teams have to have big bodies to battle Domantas Sabonis down on the block. With a few front-court players out due to injury, rookie Jaylin Williams has gotten more minutes lately, including his 6th career start on Friday night. On one second quarter sequence, Sabonis tried to post up Williams in the middle of the lane, but the rookie absorbed the multiple body blows and it resulted in a kick-out pass to the perimeter and an immediate travel by De’Aaron Fox. After a 3-pointer by Isaiah Joe – one of his four makes from deep in the first half – Williams stepped in and took a charge on Sabonis, one of five first-half turnovers for the two-time All-Star.
Paris: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander used a quick crossover to get to the right side of the floor and got a step on his defender. Guarded by the bigger Chimezie Metu, the Thunder’s leading scorer quickly elevated and threw the ball through the rim with a dunk. It was SGA’s 12th point of the frame after a flurry of midrange buckets peppered throughout the quarter. In addition to his 12 points, Gilgeous-Alexander was responsible for six additional points from his assists. All in all, his efforts helped keep the Thunder’s offense within arms reach of the Kings who outscored OKC 33-22 in the third to take a 91-88 lead going into the final frame.
Nick: Rookie Jalen Williams has been praised for playing inside the team every night, mixing his own aggressiveness in with restraint offensively. In the fourth quarter, Williams helped pull OKC back within one point at 95-94 with 9:17 to go with a pair of free throws. Just prior to that, he found Josh Giddey on a cutting layup, then he got himself to his spot on the left wing for a stop and pop jumper. In addition to his 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting, Williams had an eventful trip to Northern California. As soon as the Thunder arrived in SAC yesterday afternoon, Williams returned to his alma mater Santa Clara University to receive the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame Male Amateur Athlete of the Year award.
Paris: Fresh off of his career-high tying seven-made 3’s on Wednesday against the Pacers, Isaiah Joe kept his shooting streak alive in Sacramento on Friday. The sharp-shooter knocked down a pivotal 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds left in the game to make it a one-possession game. Joe finished the night with seven 3-pointers on just 12 attempts to make up his 21 points on the night. Midway through the fourth quarter, it was Joe and Keegan Murray going bucket for bucket from behind the arc. The third year guard played deep into crunch time for the Thunder not only showing off his shooting chops, but also coming up with stops.
“We want to be playing in environments like that and in games like that. Sacramento threw their best punch tonight. They were ready to play against us. Obviously with the way we’ve played lately, we’re going to have teams’ attention and I thought that was the case. They were really prepared and really threw their best punch. We threw our best punch and that’s how you learn. That’s the most relevant environment to learn and ultimately, we want to be a team that’s growing through all this stuff, and there’s no better way to grow than to be stress tested like we were tonight.” – Head Coach Mark Daigneault
“We just don’t give up. We play to the last horn. That’s just a testament to how we play and that’s what our team has been all year.” – Jalen Williams
The Thunder’s two-game road swing comes to a close on Sunday in Denver with the fourth and final meeting between the division-rival Nuggets. Monday and Tuesday will be chances to recover and practice before the Thunder returns to Paycom Center on Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks.
By Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder