Photos provided by Zach Beeker, OKC Thunder

No Shai? OKC makes massive statement in controversial loss

Watching the Oklahoma City Thunder is fun again and after watching the first game of the In-Season Tournament on Friday night against the Golden State Warriors, the small group that aren’t sold on the resurgent Thunder have no choice but to be sold now.

Yet another highly controversial ending to the long-lasting Thunder-Warriors saga ended in the team from the Bay winning 141-139.

All eyes were on the up-and-coming Thunder, who have made it incredibly evident that they are on their way. They’re potentially on their way to being better than the Thunder’s OG squad of the early 2010s.

Are there three generational talents on their team? That’s hard to predict. I’d assume no, but regardless, Sam Presti did a superb job constructing this squad to fit OKC’s culture. A team that fits perfectly, like puzzle pieces.

I’ve called OKC the “Next Man Up Thunder” for three seasons. A moniker adopted during Chris Paul’s one-year as a member of the Thunder during the complicated 2019-2020 season. Throughout Paul’s 19-year career, he’s been a fighter; he has to be, standing at 5-foot-11. He spread that mindset through the Thunder organization but specifically and directly to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort.

Like any learned behavior, SGA and Dort have passed that same mindset down to their neophytes, and so on. On Friday against the Warriors, we saw it come to fruition despite the loss.

There was no Shai. That’s 24.8 points unaccounted for. What would OKC do?

They scored 139 points (their highest point total of the season) on 60.2% shooting (their seventh-highest shooting percentage in Thunder history). Six Thunder scored in double-figures.

Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren proved that he’s worth the hype, also impressing Golden State’s Draymond Green and head coach Steve Kerr. Holmgren was OKC’s constant throughout the game, scoring 24 points on 7-of-9 shooting, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 block, and 1 steal.

Other than Holmgren, the Thunder took shares of carrying the team on their back. Defensive guru and streaky shooter Lu Dort proved he can carry the team if needed, completely taking over in the third quarter by scoring 16 points, on 4-of-4 shooting from 3, giving OKC a lead.

Josh Giddey started heating up when it mattered most, scoring 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the fourth quarter, which kept OKC in contention while Steph Curry and the Warriors started mounting their fourth-quarter comeback.

Jalen Williams was quiet in his approach and ended up fouling out midway through the fourth quarter, but he made clutch plays and got teammates involved, which included an 8-0 run that he was primarily responsible for. Though not boisterous, Williams finished with 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting, 8 assists, and 3 rebounds in 35 minutes.

Isaiah Joe tipped in 16 points on 3-of-5 shooting from long range, which helped bring OKC life early in the fourth quarter.

To be 19 years old, Cason Wallace has an incredibly high basketball IQ. Rarely does he make mistakes on the floor, even as a rookie, and he’s ultra-efficient. Friday, he scored 13 points on 60% shooting, and each bucket was meaningful. There weren’t any empty calories in Wallace’s stat line.

Oklahoma City was incredibly dynamic on Friday night, sending a message that they’re coming for the league quickly. They put to bed the idea that it’s just ‘SGA and the Guys.’ They proved there are four or five players who can conceivably take over a game at any moment against the league’s best and three or four more who can hit big shots in big moments.

About the author

Founder & Editor-in-Chief. National Association of Black Journalists. University of Central Oklahoma.

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