A shorthanded Thunder team missing four key players finally broke out of a five-game skid that saw them look lost. This game saw the Thunder’s young core step up in a moment where momentum was most needed dismantling the Utah Jazz by a score of 130-103. Against the Jazz, the Oklahoma City Thunder looked like a playoff contender. Here are the facts:
Fact 1: Without Shai’s presence, the Offense Stalled…at First
SGA has undoubtedly been the cornerstone of the offense this season and the Thunder are absolutely missing his 31-5-6 average but tonight saw Lu Dort, Jalen Williams, Isaiah Joe, and Josh Giddey take control of the offense at different times throughout the game. One major key, however, was the style in which they played.
Fact 2: Speed kills
Prior to this matchup, the Thunder have let five straight games slip away because they committed one of the deadly sins in basketball: They played someone else’s game.
The strength of this team isn’t in running with teams that can play with speed. At one point during the first quarter, OKC led by double digits; by the end of that quarter, they had run themselves into a small deficit with a speedy team. In the second period, they found their footing and outscored Utah 33-23 by playing their brand of basketball.
Fact 3: Identity Crisis
Like most young teams (Oklahoma City happens to be the NBA’s youngest), the Thunder sometimes struggle to figure out who they are in this league. Are they the scrappy young hungry team? Are they three-point snipers? Defensive specialists? A combination of them all? Whatever the identity of this club is, they need to find it quick over the remaining 19 games so they can finish the season strong with a postseason bid.
Fact 4: Strong Bench Play Helped Propel This Win
Missing guys like Aleksej Pokusevski, Kenrich Williams, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, and sharpshooter Lindy Waters III hurts. It can leave holes in your offense in the worst of ways but Aaron Wiggins being one point from a career high, Ousmane Deing and Dario Saric pushing out solid games off the bench is what helped the second unit outscore Utah 53-44.
Fact 5: The Length of the Jazz couldn’t Match the Defensive Tenacity of Oklahoma City
Here are some interesting numbers: 25-7. That was the difference in turnovers in this game. Eighteen. The Thunder forced 25 total turnovers (including twelve steals to Utah’s five) including multiple charges drawn and were the more aggressive defensive side of things. Jalen Williams and Lugentz Dort both had four steals a piece and set the tone in forcing bad shots and errant passes from Utah. Although they played a team that had a height advantage, the Thunder played a game of closeouts and denying the passing lane. Even Dario Saric had a fastbreak opportunity from a tipped pass.
The Thunder play the Jazz again on Sunday, March 5th and with the season series tied, we might see Oklahoma City take another big-time win at home. With nineteen games left and a record of 29-34, every game is important and we should expect to see the Thunder play like it.