Almost 42 days since then, while still maintaining a record worth a lottery selection in the 2022 NBA Draft, Oklahoma City defeated the title-contending Brooklyn Nets 130-109 at the Barclays Center on Thursday night.
Despite the Nets missing small forward Kevin Durant, point guard Kyrie Irving, shooting guard Joe Harris and, Oklahoma City’s win still proves impressive after being regarded as the “black-eye” of the league.
Notably, the Thunder’s offensive outburst of 130 points is the second most scored on Brooklyn’s defense this season, which ranks seventh in the entire league.
After missing key players Derrick Favors, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Aaron Wiggins in the unprecedented Memphis loss, Oklahoma City, for once, had the healthier roster in tonight’s matchup.
“As you said, a lot of their guys were out tonight,” Thunder forward Mike Muscala said. “So you know, things are going well for us in the first half. We were making shots and whatnot. They started playing well there in the third quarter and made a run. And, we didn’t hesitate or flinch on but just kept playing through it. And I think that was really important for us.”
At one point during the first quarter, Gilgeous-Alexander’s 16 points were more than Brooklyn scored during the entire quarter (15).
The Ontario native sparked the Thunder’s offense to a season-high 71 points at halftime by scoring a three-point play, capping off a 14-4 run with just over a minute remaining. Gilgeous-Alexander finished the matchup with a game-high 33 points on 11-of-18 shooting, 10 rebounds, and nine assists.
After starting games slow early in the season, Gilgeous-Alexander has used a message from head coach Mark Daigneault to reinvigorate his team offensively.
“Honestly, I just tried to be aggressive,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “I’m trying to set the tone early. (Daigneault) mentioned a few days ago that we start games as the worst – or one of the worst teams – and I kind of took that personally. Being the leader, I’ve wanted to get off to a good start since he said that, and I think we’ve done a good job with that.”
The rest of the Oklahoma City roster quickly followed its star point guard’s lead. Rookie forward Josh Giddey and guard Lu Dort were the third and second-leading scorers for the Thunder tonight, respectively.
Giddey had 19 points on an 8-for-17 night, alongside seven assists. Dort went 6-of-10 from beyond-the-arc en route to 27 points. Alongside them, Muscala scored 14 points on 5-for-6 shooting and a 4-of-4 from 3, which was more than the 12 minutes he played.
In the fourth quarter, superstar guard James Harden looked like he was leading the Nets to a comeback.
With just above eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Brooklyn was on an 11-4 run to start the quarter, and Harden had nailed two back-to-back 25-foot step-back jumpers. Bending but not breaking, Oklahoma City’s defense responded by forcing a steal and limiting the Nets to just 13 more points.
Thunder forward Darius Bazley, who had 16 points and a block, was an x-factor in limiting Brooklyn’s playmakers with his perimeter defense. This season, Bazley has eclipsed a career-high in blocks (45) and it’s quickly becoming a new part of his defensive game.
“It just kept happening, and then I kind of became a little bit more aware of it,” Bazley said. I’m like okay, ‘I’m gonna start trying to go get these now.’ Obviously, some shots can be a little bit tricky, but I think that’s just another element to add, like being able to contest shots and maybe throw them off or block it, so they’re not able to get a shot off.”
After its win against the Nets, Oklahoma City will return home to the Paycom Center to face off against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday, Jan. 15 at 7 p.m. CT.
As the season progresses, Daigneault and his team want to continue getting the first punch over teams to win games.
“I thought we just answered them really well early, credit them for pulling the lever to try to get themselves back in the game but I thought we did a nice job of responding in the third quarter.”