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Thunder vs Hornets, final score: OKC defense steps up late to hold off Charlotte, 109-104

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The Thunder held off a late game run by the Hornets to hang on for their 12th win.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Oklahoma City Thunder Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

box score | At the Hive

The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Charlotte Hornets on their home court, 109-104. In a back-and-forth affair between two rapidly improving teams, it was once again the Thunder’s defense and some timely 4th quarter playmaking that enabled OKC to pick up their 12th win of the season and second in a row over Charlotte, sweeping the regular season series.

The Thunder were led by Russell Westbrook who, despite still looking a little sloppy with his handle and coordination following inactivity, finished with a game-high 30 points on 10-18 shooting to go along with 12 rebounds, 8 assists, and 2 steals. Dennis Schroder, starting in the backcourt due to the absence of Terrance Ferguson and Hamidou Diallo, and with Alex Abrines still looking like he’s recovering from illness, finished with 23 on 9-19 shooting, including 4-8 from three. The Hornets were led by Kemba Walker, who finished with 25 on the night, but only 2-10 from 3-point range as OKC worked hard to prevent him from getting open looks.

All in all, this was a really fun game to watch between two teams who are figuring out who they are, have a defined hierarchy, lots of options to play with, and depth. I know the Hornets have fizzled in the past as seasons have gone on, but hopefully this will be the year Walker can lead his team to something more than a moral victory. Because they really hung in there tonight, and against a Thunder team who, while facing a shortage of active players, still had their main guys suit up and mostly play well.

That is, mostly. Even as OKC was able to power to a double digit lead in the 3rd, they simply couldn’t put the Hornets away. As the game got tighter, OKC’s shooting percentages and patience began to drop, and suddenly they found themselves in a one possession game with clock winding down. Earlier this season, specifically against Boston, we saw the team crumble under the pressure, and the invitation was there tonight.

OKC countered with its stars making the biggest plays of the game. Paul George, struggling with his shot for most of the night, hit a huge 3-pointer with 5:12 remaining. Several minutes later, PG hit Westbrook on a hard cut, ending with an acrobatic and-one.

A minute after that, George posted up with the shot clock winding down, took his time, and hit a huge bank shot to keep it at a two possession game.

With the game on the line, Westbrook then does what he does — amid several questionable shot attempts and careless ball handling, Russ refused to give in to the pressure and helped deliver two consecutive defensive stands with the game on the line, securing the defensive rebounds and subsequent free throws to put a seal on the win. To be sure, Westbrook was far from perfect in those final moments, but with the team staying true to its defensive principles, refused to give the Hornets any open looks, and their two rushed 3-point attempts clanked off the rim, ending the contest.

Quick shots

  • It has been interesting and fun to watch the Thunder defense, not really sharp early on, slowly figure things out and take away late the things that burned them early. One simple example — OKC was getting lazy in putting the Hornets on the free throw line early, putting them on the charity stripe 10 times in the 1st quarter alone. The Hornets shot only 4 free throws the rest of the game.
  • I’m not sure I’m a fan of Paul George taking on average 10 threes a game — which is his per game average in November — but he does so many other things so well I’m willing to pay the tax on that one.
  • I’ll grant that it could be because of the out-of-rotation rotation, but Patrick Patterson is really struggling to contribute. He’s only averaging 15 minutes per night, shooting 29% from the floor, and 30% from three. It’s kind of astounding how bad he is at finishing around the rim as well.
  • Props to Billy Donovan for how he managed his guard situation tonight. Westbrook went 35 minutes and Schroder played 32, but because of how they spent time both together and apart running the offense, Donovan only had to rely on Raymond Felton for 5 minutes the whole game, despite effectively being down 3 guards on the night.
  • Jerami Grant — can jump.
  • Deonte Burton sighting! Career-high 11 points on 4-8 shooting on the night. Yes, he still is getting roasted on defense like any rookie, but his positive contribution and energy off the bench is a big boost to a short-handed team.
  • One of the signs of a good team is, when guys get hurt, other role players step up. Tonight, Schroder and Burton stepped up.

Next game: Tomorrow night vs Denver Nuggets at 7PM CST