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Oklahoma City falls 122-118 to Wizards

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Washington Wizards Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Moments after Lu Dort launched a wide-open three-pointer from the elbow, he watched as his shot underwhelmingly fell short of the rim and floated out-of-bounds with 24.5 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

After missing the jumper, Dort despondently walked over to the Wizards’ logo, where he was met by an encouraging pat on the chest from forward Darius Bazley.

From that point on, the Washington Wizards (21-20) nailed both of their free throws to seal a 122-118 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder (13-27) on Tuesday night.

“That three-point shot that Dort took was a designed play,” head coach Mark Daigneault said. “That (play) was well executed based on the things that we could control. If you look at his percentages on open shots this year, that’s one that we’re going to take there.”

Dort has hit two game-winners during his three-year career. Tonight, however, he failed to tally a third make to his total. He finished with 17 points on 6-for-14 shooting, alongside five rebounds and two assists.

Offensively, both teams consistently attacked the paint against one another. The Thunder and Wizards scored 52 and 56 points, respectively, in the opposing teams’ painted area. In the first half alone, just shooting 4-for-18 from beyond the arc, Oklahoma City garnered 61 points by halftime — the most it’s scored in half this season.

“It was a great game, and honestly, both teams played well enough to stay in it down the stretch,” Daigneault said. “I thought offensively tonight we attacked them…. Tonight there were a lot of positives on that end. Defensively, we weren’t as sharp as we usually are.”

Oklahoma City Thunder guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Josh Giddey flourished playing their respective offensive roles. Gilgeous-Alexander, after shooting 11-for-40 in his past three games, had a bounce-back game with a team-high 32 points (13-for-22), three rebounds, and eight assists. The Toronto native sliced through Washington’s defense all night.

“He’s shifty with the ball,” teammate Giddey said of Gilgeous-Alexander after the game. “He gets where he wants whenever he wants. There’s not a lot of guys in the league one-on-one that can stay in front of him.”

Giddey, who has shot 10-for-22 from 3 since returning from COVID-19 health and safety protocols on Jan. 2, showcased his improved scoring ability against the Wizards. The Australian rookie tallied an impressive 18 points on 8-for-15 shooting, six rebounds, and eight eye-popping assists. Giddey has now scored double-digits in five consecutive games for the Thunder.

“A lot of it is just confidence,” Giddey said on his improved scoring. At the start of the year, I would overthink. Now I think it’s out of my head, and I’m kind of just shooting freely. Make or miss, it’s onto the next shot for me, and I don’t think about it as much (as I used to).”

As the Thunder pivot to their next matchup against the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, Jan. 13 in Brooklyn, Daigneault wants his team to focus more defensively.

Oklahoma City gave up 122 points to Washington without All-Star guard Bradley Beal for the second time in three weeks due to the COVID-19 protocol.

Without Beal, Wizards’ guard Kyle Kuzma carried the scoring load once again with a team-leading 29 points on 12-for-17 shooting.

Oklahoma City also struggled to defend Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who hit the game-clinching backboard 3, as they combined for 28 points.

“I thought we had a hard time limiting their penetration,” Daigneault said. “We just didn’t force them to make enough plays, and that’s why they got 122 points… They did a lot of the same things we were doing offensively.”