Friday night’s thriller in Oklahoma City was reminiscent of previous Thunder seasons when there was a draw of star power and championship contention. Obviously, that’s not the case anymore, but two specific players brought that spark back into the Peake en route to their 109-104 victory.
After a rough first half, full of turnovers and sham lobs to Nerlens Noel, Dennis Schröder was OKC’s go-to option down the stretch and one of the biggest reasons the Thunder could pull off their 11th win of the season. Schröder finished the game with 25 points and 7 assists on 45.8 percent shooting.
The surprising contributor was the second-leading scorer for the Thunder. The player that has scored 42 points in the last five quarters. That player’s name is Abdel Nader. While his success over the last two games has been random and surprising to some, we should have seen it coming, right? Since Nader is such a hard-working, fundamental player it was only a matter of time before his hard work came to fruition.
“I’m really happy for him,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “because there’s nobody that works harder or is more committed or is in the gym more than he is. … I thought his shots that he took today, we found him in some corner threes. It came within our offense. He really worked hard on the defensive end of the floor.”
Nader’s increase in production has come at a convenient time. Hamidou Diallo is injured and will be re-evaluated in four to six weeks after being diagnosed with a hyperextension sprain in his right elbow. Deonte Burton and Nader were the players expected to take Diallo’s minutes. Diallo’s spark off the bench wasn’t replaced until the late stages of Wednesday’s game by Nader, but on Friday night, Nader was a reliable option on the offensive end of the floor and Burton provided a spark on the defensive end.
Nader’s career-high 23 points against the Portland Trail Blazers were slightly skewed because 19 of them came in the fourth quarter when the game was out of OKC’s hands. However, those 23 points meant something to Nader and did great things for his confidence heading into Friday’s game.
The problem with Nader has never been his confidence. He’s always seemed to be quiet, but confident in himself and his game. He just hasn’t had the green light do express it in the past. Based on these last five quarters, Billy Donovan has given him the green light and he’s taking full advantage of it.
Although Nader isn’t the flashiest player of them all and won’t make the crowd go wild with highlight-worthy crossovers or dunks, this two-game stretch for him could be career-defining.
As for the Thunder, they’re currently 11th in the Western Conference with a (7-11) record and are surprisingly one game behind the Phoenix Suns for the 8th seed. This puts OKC in a tough position, though. The question still persists; are they in a rebuilding period or are they merely trying to stay relevant, hoping the cards fall in the right place? Are they trying to get into that 1-8, playoff-contending range or are they trying to drop into the 13-15 lottery special range of teams? Well, right now it’s looking like they’ll be in that 9-12 spot where they won’t be in the playoffs, but also won’t get a top pick in the upcoming draft.
Who knows, though. If this is a stepping stone for Nader, and Diallo comes back playing the way he played before his injury, this Thunder team could be pretty interesting down the stretch.