The shorthanded Oklahoma City Thunder handed the Houston Rockets their 20th straight loss by winning 114-112.
It is a fair assessment to say that neither of these team’s front offices or fanbases wanted to win this game or any game for the remainder of the season. And they have a valid reason to feel that way; drafting is the easiest way to rebuild a franchise.
This game meant more than the average game for both of these fanbases for obvious reasons; the Thunder will own the Rockets 2021 first-round draft pick if it falls out of the top four.
This means if Houston won, then the odds that OKC keeps their pick increases. If OKC won, then the odds of Houston keeping their own pick increases. So losing this contest was more enticing than winning it.
But that does not mean that the coaches and players on these teams should feel the same way. Competition is in their DNA, so expecting them to just lay down and take losses is disrespectful. This was seen in today’s game against these former foes in this close contest that went down to the final possession.
Considering that four starters were out, Lu Dort had the green light to shoot as often as he wanted to this game and he did not let the opportunity slip him by. Dort scored 23 points on 10-of-22 shooting.
It is refreshing to see such a young player be aggressive with his shooting and not become hesitant due to a couple of misses, Dort took advantage of the circumstances and let it fly all game long. But the most impressive play of the game came on the defensive side from Dort.
With 9 seconds left, in a one-point Thunder lead, Dort managed to block the speedy John Wall’s driving layup attempt. The Rockets would fail to capture the lead after this and would go on to lose the game.
“That was a heck of a play obviously, and a great second effort,” noted Diagneault postgame.
“Honestly, that was a heroic play, I have never seen anything like that and it was real clutch,” said Moses Brown postgame. “I told Lu after the game that ‘you’re a monster Lu.’”
The Thunder also had five other players score in the double digits. Isaiah Roby had 18 points, Justin Jackson and Svi Mykhailiuk each added 15 points, Brown had a 13 point and 14 rebounds double-double, and Theo Maledon scored 12 points while being a pest on defense and being aggressive with his hands.
Aleksej Pokusevski also contributed with nine points and nine rebounds.
The Thunder essentially won this game on the offensive board, where they outrebounded the Rockets 19 to 8. This resulted in OKC shooting the ball 12 more times against the poor Rockets defense.
On paper, it is hard to believe just how bad this Rockets team is. On paper, John Wall, Christian Wood, and Victor Oladipo sound like a respectable trio. But this is why basketball games are played on the court and not on paper.
Houston just plays a very sloppy and unorganized style of basketball. It seems like players aren’t on the same page and a lot of the defensive lapses are mental mistakes that are easily fixable with simple communication.
The final shot of the game really exemplifies just how bad the Rockets are. Rockets Head Coach Stephen Silas noted postgame that the final play drawn with 4.9 seconds to go was supposed to be a pick and roll, instead, John Wall abandoned the play and took a deep, 29-foot three-point pull-up jumper that missed and ended the game.
I understand that Silas has had a bad hand dealt with him with the James Harden Saga and injuries, but the Rockets should be playing a lot better than they have been considering who is on their roster.
Meanwhile, Daigneault continues to win games despite players coming in and out of the lineup with injuries and having a roster that is mostly filled with former G League players and really young players.
It seems to be more obvious with each passing game, that Daigneault has built a system and a culture that brings the most out of his entire roster and does not solely rely on the talent of his best players to compete and win games.
It stinks that the Thunder keeps on winning games and hurting their draft position, but it is a great sign for the long-term health of the franchise that Daigneault seems to be able to get the most juice out of his squeezes and has his team bought in.
Next Game: The Thunder plays Monday against the Minnesota Timberwolves.