The Oklahoma City Thunder’s game plan and execution flowed seamlessly on Tuesday night at Paycom Center – with hardly any air in the lines for the better part of 36 minutes.
The keg tapped out just before closing time of the third quarter, ultimately leading to a 106-98 loss, but the standing ovation OKC’s home crowd followed with spotlighted the game’s tone much more than the final score.
“I think we have improved,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said in his postgame press conference. “Improvement is not linear, but we’re playing better for more sustained periods of the game.
The Thunder (0-4) played the part of aggressor early, pestering the unbeaten Warriors (4-0), who have used the beginning stages of the season to reestablish their place as a Western Conference power.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the charge offensively, scoring 13 of his game-high 30 points on a mixture of moves in the first half.
Luguentz Dort made life difficult for Steph Curry on the defensive end, relentlessly pressuring the defending scoring champion off his go-to spots while helping ‘limit’ him to 16 points over 15 minutes in the first half. Curry scored just seven points the rest of the game.
The dynamic duo’s efficiency and energy sparked a 59-48 halftime lead. The spirit was contagious.
Darius Bazley assaulted the rim with a jam that lifted the crowd early in the game. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl drilled four shots, including a triple, to keep things rolling. Rookie Josh Giddey grabbed six boards and stayed active defensively. The bench scored 20 points.
Like every good team, though, the Warriors had a run saved up. And it served as the game’s turning point.
Golden State hammered home a 33-17 third-quarter run with an 11-0 burst over the final two minutes, turning Oklahoma City’s five-point lead into a five-point deficit. The Thunder failed to regain the advantage.
Daigneault, as well as the fans, was pleased with the team’s effort. He seemed especially encouraged regarding signs of development.
“It’s early, and these are challenging opponents and a challenging schedule,” the second-year head coach said, referring to seven games in the 11 nights.
“But we’re going to have to taste our blood a little bit. We have competitors and team guys, and embracing the competition is something that resonates with them. We have to tighten the screws on some of the other things.”
OKC hosts the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday to cap a back-to-back set and three-game homestand. The team hits the road for a rematch against the Warriors on Saturday.