Around tip-off, the Oklahoma City Thunder announced that Paul George wouldn’t play due to a sore right shoulder. Although the Philadelphia 76ers Joel Embiid was also listed as out for the game with a knee injury, the Sixers still had the upper hand.
It caught some by surprise but OKC losing George was far more detrimental than Philly losing Embiid. The difference: George is OKC heart and soul defensively and their best scorer. Embiid is Philly’s best overall player and anchor in the paint but he’s one of their four all-star caliber players.
Without George, the Thunder were completely out of sorts but thanks to a couple of Thunder role players, this game was closer than it probably should have been.
One of the most improved players in the NBA and the most improved on the Thunder is Grant. He shared a team-high 23 points with Russell Westbrook and added six rebounds.
Other than Westbrook leading the Thunder throughout with his 25th triple-double performance of the year, Grant’s impact on this game played a significant part in OKC almost pulling out a shorthanded victory against the star-studded Sixers. He shot 10-for-17 from the field and netted two threes while providing substantial defense in the midst of a near-complete meltdown for the Thunder in the first half.
As we saw during the 2016-2017 season, Westbrook can carry the Thunder if he absolutely needs to but against his former team, Grant needed to have a big night.
Morris got his first start as a member of the Thunder in place of George and took full advantage of the opportunity. While slowly integrating himself into the Thunder’s defensive scheme he’s appeared confused, deer in the headlights type of vibe.
Thursday night, he took a big step forward on both ends of the floor. His defensive rotations were fluid with the rest of the team and when he was tasked with an on-ball assignment he made things harder for the player he was defending.
In addition to his work on defense, he recorded 17 points, four rebounds and one steal on 7-of-12 shooting and didn’t find himself awkwardly standing in the corner, as an obvious outsider in OKC’s offensive scheme.
What Morris and Grant did was play a lead role, alongside Westbrook in the Thunder nearly winning Thursday night’s game. The two combined for 17-of-29 shooting on the night for 40 of OKC’s 104 points. The Thunder as a team were handing Philly their buckets on a silver platter, giving up 60 points in the first half on 51 percent shooting. In the second half, thanks to Grant, Morris and Steven Adams lead, they cut that down to 48 points on 42 percent shooting to close the game out.
The Thunder did lose this game but without Paul George, it’s no surprise. All things considered, this wasn’t a terrible loss. Morris, a player the Thunder need to get in a rhythm heading into the playoffs, became more acclimated to his new team and may have found his game in the meantime. Grant has simply continued to elevate his game and Thursday night was further evidence of that.