What a great set of wins for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Thunder were able to cap off their five-game road trip with back-to-back impressive wins in Portland Trailblazers and the Phoenix Suns, two teams projected by many to make the playoffs.
On Wednesday, the Thunder were able to win 102-97 against the Suns in a game of runs where there were multiple points in the ball game that saw both teams on the verge of pulling away until the opposition made a run of their own.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander won this round in the highly anticipated matchup against former mentor Chris Paul. SGA finished with just 21 points, 8 assists, and 7 rebounds, but he turned it up in the final quarter and scored 8 points that included him going a perfect 4-of-4 from the line to seal this win in the final 17.8 seconds.
Paul was the best player on the court tonight as he finished with a season-high 32 points.
Paul played exactly as he did with OKC last season where he initially played a passive role to get his teammates going, but once things started to look dire, Paul turned it up a notch and started to score points furiously. But in the end, it wasn’t enough as OKC escaped with the five-point win.
OKC’s second-best player tonight was the returning Al Horford, who missed the last two weeks to attend the birth of his child. Horford was fantastic tonight on both ends, finishing with 21 points and 11 rebounds and going a perfect 5-of-5 from three, which is a career-high.
Horford also did a great job at containing Deandre Ayton, who only managed to score 5 points. Obviously, the shutting down of Ayton was not all Horford, coach Mark Daigneault also gave credit to Mike Muscala and Isaiah Roby. But he was big that was on him for most of the game and the team limiting Ayton to just 7 shots is a big reason they won.
“I thought he did a good job on him,” said head coach Mark Daigneault. “We just tried to stay physical on him.”
Lu Dort was also special tonight. Dort scored 14 points and shot 4-of-8 from three. He was also great at hounding Paul and Mikal Bridges all game long and not giving them anything easy.
Coach Daigneault mentioned postgame that he thought Dort was great down the stretch as he drew three separate offensive fouls on Phoenix due to his willingness to fight over screens.
Dort was easily the best player tonight who went to college at Arizona.
Tonight also saw Theo Maledon start his second consecutive game with George Hill out and he turned in his best performance of the season. Maledon finished with 11 points and 6 rebounds.
“I thought Maledon was really good down the stretch, showed great poise,” said Daigneault.
“Biggest thing with Theo is that we want him to be confident,” said SGA.
While Darius Bazley has struggled with his shot this season, his rebounding has been great. In tonight’s contest, Bazley shot a poor 4-of-13 for 10 points, but he was able to contribute with his rebounding game as he grabbed 7 boards that included grabbing a game-sealing rebound with the Thunder leading by one point with 21.9 seconds left.
And finally, Aleksej Pokusevski had arguably his best game tonight as he finished with 7 points, 3 blocks, and 4 rebounds. There were a couple of possessions where Pokusevski was left on an island against Paul and many expected the worst outcome. But surprisingly, he held his own on both possessions and forced Paul to take a couple of bad shots due to Pokusevski’s lengthy arms.
Overall, this was a great win for the team. After the first quarter, this felt like a game that was going to be decided by halftime with the Suns leading 32-17. The Thunder were not able to generate much offense and were shooting bricks from three.
But eventually, the team turned that around and started to click on things on offense and defense. The Thunder would go on to outscore the Suns 85-65 in the final three-quarters of the game.