Start time - 7:00 p.m. (CT)
Broadcaster - Bally Sports Oklahoma
The Thunder start the week at home against one of the best teams in the league in surprisingly good form. Oklahoma City had won three games on the bounce before Saturday’s loss against the Kings.
The Thunder put in a gutsy performance against Sacramento and made the opposing team work really hard for the victory. Josh Giddey, Mamadi Diakite and Aleksej Pokusevski all had really strong performances for the Thunder. OKC were just too fatigued from the bruising, physical encounter with the Blazers to have any real energy late in the game.
For a team that played without Shai, Dort, Wiggins and JRE, I was really happy with how the Thunder played. Josh Giddey stepped up in a big way and he seems to have found renewed confidence in his ability to make shots.
Giddey took 19 shots on the night and attacked off the drive with vigour. He had 14 shot attempts below the 3-point arc with a good number of makes coming off his silky smooth floater.
Giddey’s floater often looks like a lob pas and that subtle deception catches the defense off guard. The opposing big man is reticent to step up as he fears a backdoor cutter catching a lob and finishing above the rim. All that does is create space for Giddey to consistently drain looks inside without being disturbed by physical contact.
Aleksej Pokusevski had not played for the Thunder for a month and was almost forgotten by Thunder fans. Poku was in the G League, playing for the Blue and working on developing his feel for the game. He was nowhere near the main roster.
Pokusevski has moments of real quality but the key for him is finding consistency on a nightly basis. Once the coaching staff have a reliable baseline performance level for Pokusevski, they can start to work on building his game. For the last 12 months, Poku’s performances have been consistently inconsistent.
He had 12 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists against Sacramento off the bench. His impact on the game was tangible; Oklahoma City played with more energy and dynamism when Pokusevski was on the floor. We need to see more steady, productive nights from Poku before he can be a regular in Coach Daigneault’s rotation. His recent assignment to the G League makes that point clear.
One player whose statistics did not reflect his performance was Darius Bazley. On the surface, Bazley had a productive night. His counting stats were solid but he just took air out of the ball offensively.
The Thunder’s system is predicated on ball movement; isolation basketball is reserved for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Josh Giddey. Darius Bazley has a terrible habit of holding onto the ball too much and trying to attack the defense off the dribble.
Bazley does not have enough ball trickery to glide past defenses; he has length but rarely deploys his long strides in a purposeful way. Bazley’s drives to the rim are often hesitant and for this reason, he cannot shake off defenders.
Once he reaches the painted area, Bazley is not creative enough to keep the defense guessing. Darius cannot finish with his weak hand and rarely finishes above the rim. Defenses almost seem to know that he will settle for a hooked layup that is easy to block.
It is incredibly frustrating as the Bazley who takes three touches and dunks at will is a valuable, useful player. Isolation Bazley disrupts the offensive flow and gets his shot blocked too often.
Golden State, the Thunder’s opponents, are also currently struggling with injuries. Draymond Green, Otto Porter Jr, Andre Iguodala and Nemanja Bjelica are all not expected to feature tonight. Those four players comprise an important part of the Warriors’ forward rotation.
Coach Steve Kerr has addressed the issue by going small and putting Klay Thompson at the 4. Wiggins, Moody and Thompson is an interchangeable group of players who can switch seamlessly and crank up the intensity when it comes to perimeter defense. It is a shrewd decision that also improves the Warriors’ floor spacing.
Thompson has the sort of off-ball gravity that most teams dream of. You cannot afford to leave him open for a second as he will splash a three right in the opposing defender’s face. Putting him in the front-court and having a big chase him around makes it much easier for Curry to create for his teammates.
Without Draymond Green, the Warriors do not have their point guard. That responsibility falls to Stephen Curry and his task is much simpler when he can play defenders 1v1. In a system where spacing is poor, the opposing team can load up on Steph and mark him out of the game. Great spacing maximises Curry’s ability to run an offense.
Tonight’s game will be tough for the Thunder and I do not expect the men in Thunder Blue to win. I would like to see the Thunder make the Warriors sweat and make the game somewhat competitive.