The official inception of OKC’s new era started with a Danilo Gallinari travel, a blocked Steven Adams shot attempt and a shot clock violation. The Thunder shot 5-of-21 in the first quarter and only scored 12 points to Utah’s 23. Things were honestly going as expected for the Thunder, but somehow they weren’t down by 20 points.
The game started for the Thunder when the second quarter started.
The Chris Paul-led defense ramped up and helped materialize the offense. Paul led an 8-0 run over the first two minutes of the quarter with two 3s, pulling OKC within three of Utah, which seemed to energize and set the tone for his youthful teammates. Like Paul, veteran Danilo Gallinari got started in the second quarter by knocking down two 3s himself, while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander knocked one down from the left-wing too.
Paul and Gallinari are the seasoned, yet productive vets on this team. They’re both on the other side of 30 years old and have played on more than three teams. It was interesting to watch two players in particular during this game: Gilgeous-Alexander and Diallo and how they carried the tone that CP3 and Gallo set.
The 2:30 mark of the first half capped off a personal 7-0 run by SGA, lifting the Thunder over the Jazz 44-40 for the first time. Yes, the Jazz ended the final two minutes of the half on a 9-2 run, but there was a very optimistic spirit surrounding the team. A sigh of relief considering their uneasy, off-rhythm first quarter.
Steven Adams was still scoreless at the start of the second half and would be until the 9:09 mark of the fourth, but again the Thunder kept finding ways to not only be in the game but lead through the final seven minutes of the third quarter. Diallo and SGA are to thank for OKC outscoring Utah 28-19 in the third quarter as they combined for 21 points. They led OKC to a 74-68 lead to end the quarter.
The fourth came down to who the better team was and looking at the roster, it was Utah, who also had the best player on the court in Donovan Mitchell. OKC couldn’t make shots down the stretch and gave up 14 points from Mitchell in the meantime, which in a close game is a recipe for disaster. Mitchell finished the night with 32 points.
Utah edged out a 100-95 victory over the Thunder but probably left the arena taking this as a moral loss. OKC however, left Utah feeling encouraged about what’s to come this season and how much they can build on. SGA scored 26 points, a career-high in his Thunder debut and Chris Paul scored 22. Both rank second and third for most points in a Thunder debut. For the Thunder to force this game to the final 30 seconds, while Adams scored only three points on 1-of-8 shooting is extremely impressive.
If only they could have done a better job on Donovan Mitchell, specifically in the final minutes.
Feature image: Melissa Majchrzak