The last three years have for the most part been a dull and bleak slog through games. The goal was always to vie for the best possible lottery odds. This season feels different. While the Thunder are still not a winning team, they have been an exciting to watch and challenging squad to face. It is safe to say that their 150-117 victory over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night is the best victory of the ‘tanking’ era.
When Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was reported to be out with an illness, nobody would blame you for being pessimistic about the Thunder’s chance to pull out a win against the league-leading 26-11 Celtics, I know I certainly was.
But by some miracle, the Thunder did it and they won in an extremely convincing fashion. 150 points is the most the Thunder have ever scored in a game. Doing that without the third-leading scoring in the NBA is a testament to the core the Thunder have built and the promising future in store for Thunder fans.
I do not even know where to start with last night’s performance. Five players scored 20+ points, seven with 10 or more, they hit 20 threes as a team and shot 59% from the field. They stole the ball 14 times and out-rebounded the Celtics 44-38 despite Mike Muscala being the only true center to play.
All of this happened without three rotation players, Shai, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Aleksej Pokusevski. The Thunder’s marquee draft pick, Chet Holmgren, has not even suited up this season.
When the Thunder picked up Isaiah Joe from the Sixers before the start of the season, nobody could have expected this level of play from him. Joe-mania started in late October when he led a huge comeback victory against the Mavericks after entering late in the game with the Thunder needing valuable buckets.
Since then, Joe has carved out a spot in the rotation and is absolutely lighting it up from deep on the regular, 44.6% from behind the arc.
Joe was the catalyst that led to the Thunder’s blowout. With the Thunder holding a one-point lead after the first quarter, Joe went off for 17 second quarter points and put the Celtics in a hole that they would never recover from.
Joe only attempts one two-point shot a game on average but he had success at the rim during the second quarter. His most impressive came on this fast break. Derrick White plays great vertical defense and Joe still finishes through the contact.
You can just sense the confidence oozing out of Joe as he pulls up for three in transition for his 14th point of the quarter. His quick bomb from downtown gave the Thunder an 18-point lead as the Celtics look deflated.
Then there was this play to cap off a spectacular performance. Up 33 in the fourth quarter, Joe attacks the slow-footed Blake Griffin and detonates all over Payton Pritchard who can do nothing but foul as Paycom Center erupts. Play of the game in the game of the season (last three seasons, actually).
This has been such a huge pickup by Sam Presti and the spark-plug sharpshooting Joe brings off the bench has been invaluable. The Thunder have played with a “never say die” attitude this season and Joe’s competitiveness has been crucial in sustaining that.
Josh Giddey had probably the best quarter of his career so far in the third, with 17 points with three makes from deep. Giddey’s scoring was an area of improvement for him to focus on after his rookie season.
He was inefficient from most areas on the court in his first year but he has absolutely made huge strides in the bucket-getting department. Giddey is now up to 15.3 points a night on the season with a markedly improved 52.9% true-shooting.
The last month has been the best stretch of basketball he has played in his short career. Giddey is averaging 16 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists on a super efficient 51.4% from the field and 45.2% from deep (!!!).
Shooting guru Chip Engelland might be deserving of a statue for how much Giddey’s shot has improved this season. Hitting three consecutive splashes from behind the arc in a single quarter would have been considered a pipe dream for Giddey just 10 months ago.
Josh Giddey was even cashing in heat check threes, Josh Giddey was doing this!
This shot was probably the peak of my ear-splitting screaming from the living room. My voice is struggling right now.
I love seeing Giddey using his body more to seek out and then finish through contact. He gained some strength over the summer and it is clearly paying dividends. His 63% shooting in the restricted area is up from 57.9% in his rookie year.
This all bodes for the young Aussie and aids him in becoming a guy the Thunder can go to when they are in need of a bucket. He has shown a very soft touch on shots around the rim this year, especially on floaters and short-range push shots.
Jalen Williams threw down four thunderous dunks in yet another exhilarating game to watch from the rookie stud. Seriously, I am in love with this guy. He does not have a weakness out on the floor, he os the definition of the do-it-all wing archetype that is so highly coveted in today’s NBA.
He is so good at reading the game and jumping into passing lanes; he had a career-high four steals on the night. As soon as Jayson Tatum gathered the ball, Jalen knew it was going to be thrown to Malcolm Brogdon in the corner. His quick recognition allows him to jump the lane and deflect the ball with his freakishly long wingspan.
This is not even mentioning the fast break flush to finish off an awesome play that put the Thunder up 10.
Six straight Thunder points came off electrifying jams from JDub to end the third and start the fourth. I am just going to drop them here and let you admire them. This guy is GOOD.
Every time Williams has the ball in his hand you get the sense that something good is about to happen, a rarity for even the best of rookies. He is an efficient user of the ball, only turning it over 1.6 times a game on average. He is an effective off-baller cutter, he can run the offense with the ball in his hands in the pick-and-roll and he can create his own shot off the dribble.
We have got a star brewing in Jalen Williams.
Next up, we have got to pay dues to Tre Mann. After struggling mightily to start the year, Mann was sent down to the G-League to get reps as the go-to guy and boost his confidence. So far, that choice has paid off. He had 21 points in the blowout of the Celtics. He was efficient in doing so as well, 8-for-11 from the field including five threes.
He really is a special shot creating talent. I feel sorry for former Thunder player Justin Jackson here, if you are a big and get switched onto Mann, you are in for a rough ride. Tre’s shiftiness and ability to stop on a dime is a rare find.
If he can start knocking down the shots consistently like he has been doing recently, he is going to be a very good player. Exactly, the type of player you would love to have first off the bench to ignite a scoring run and get the team going.
Lastly, I wanted to acknowledge undefeated starter, Aaron Wiggins. The former 55th pick, now in his second season out of Maryland, had another rock-solid outing with 17 points. His impact does not always jump off the stat sheet, but it is undoubtedly there.
There is a reason the Thunder now sit at 7-0 when Wiggins starts. He is a 3&D guy who goes out there and plays his role to perfection. Every successful team needs reliable guys like this who get the job done whenever called upon.
What. A. Win. This Thunder team is a resilient, competitive young group that is mature beyond their years and fights to the end of every single game. This auspicious victory without their superstar will be remembered as a “trailer” for the future of this Thunder core once they return to the playoffs.
The Thunder will have celebrated their brilliant performance but will have prepared in hopes of replicating the magic against Orlando tonight.