Looking for their first win in six tries, the Oklahoma City Thunder welcomed in the Philadelphia 76ers, who are legitimate championship contenders out of the Eastern Conference.
While the last ten games have been a bit uninspiring and dull, there was some added excitement heading into this game for the Thunder, simply because Darius Bazley was active to play and in the starting lineup for the first time since March 4, pre-All-Star break. Lu Dort returned to the lineup for the first time since March 27, seven games ago, when he suffered a concussion against the Boston Celtics.
Both played relatively well, considering their hiatus. Bazley started the game hot, 4-of-4 from the field for 10 points, including two impressive threes to kick things off for the Thunder offensively. It looked like a breakout game in the making, but the reminder of the player that Bazley’s been in OKC came to fruition once again when he went dormant through two quarters.
After the 4-for-4 start, Bazley shot 1-of-4 in the second and third quarter for only two points, and that’s when the Thunder started to slump a bit. Granted, Baze did contribute on the boards with nine and shared the ball generously, tallying five assists, but his lack of aggressiveness regarding scoring hurt the Thunder because he had the hot hand.
Luguentz Dort had a strong return, scoring an efficient 15 points on 50 percent shooting while collecting five rebounds and adding one steal and one block. However, this was a game where both he and Bazley should have taken control of the offense, gotten up more shot attempts, thus realizing that they’re the go-to guys for this team with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander still sidelined.
The Thunder have lost nine of their last ten by an average of 24 points and have lost six straight games. They played a Sixers team with championship aspirations and probably should have won the game looking at the stats. That’s until you take a look at their free throw percentage (47.4%) and 22 turnovers.
My biggest critique of Bazley and Dort is that they were leading contributors to why the Thunder offense was so efficient and why the Thunder sequentially lost the game. Of OKC’s 22 turnovers, Bazley (9) and Dort (3) combined for more than half of those. At times, Bazley made terrible decisions with the ball in his hand, which resulted in his enhanced turnovers.
All in all, the Thunder didn’t look bad and gave Philly more of a fight than expected. Still, it’s haunting to think about how much closer this game would have been if they didn’t miss ten free throws and turned the ball over 23 times for 32 points. If OKC makes five of those ten missed free throws and cuts the turnovers in half, that’s potentially a 20-point turnaround, making this game much closer.
Nevertheless, the Thunder continue to lose games, which improves their chances at a high lottery pick. They are now (20-33) on the season with a trip to Salt Lake City to play the NBA’s best team, the Utah Jazz, on Tuesday night.