The Thunder return to OKC after a short road trip spanning from Houston to Orlando with game flows as different as the cities themselves. Despite 20 points in the second quarter from Chris Paul on Monday in Houston, the Thunder found itself battling out of a 17-point hole in the fourth quarter with less than seven minutes left on the clock, resulting in the fourth-largest comeback win this season.
The Thunder depth made itself apparent throughout the two-game span. Playing without Terrance Ferguson, Abdel Nader, and Steven Adams for all but 90 seconds of the trip with an ankle sprain, Luguentz Dort made his first career start in Houston, and followed it up with his second in Orlando. The rookie showcased his elite defensive skills, blanketing James Harden in Houston and checking the likes of Terrance Ross and Evan Fournier in Orlando. “Lu Dort has been amazing especially coming up from the G-League and playing big minutes … and starters minutes,” Chris Paul said in the locker room following the Orlando win.
In contrast to its game in Houston, the Thunder led for the majority of the game in Orlando. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter when the Magic pulled it to a one-point game. The Thunder had major contributions from its big men, who were forced to slow down Nikola Vucevic in the paint. The dagger, though, came from the OKC’s lightning-quick sixth man, Dennis Schröder, who finished the game with a season-high 31 points behind a surging 22-point second half.
“We’re just playing. It’s all about having fun, having confidence … everybody’s ready,” Dennis Schröder said. “Everybody’s working each day trying to get better and it doesn’t really matter who’s out there, who’s not, we just try to go out there and compete and that’s what we did [Wednesday night].”
The Hawks snapped its two-game skid in a massive comeback victory against the Clippers on Wednesday, lifting them to their third win in five games. Rallying back without its headlining point guard in Trae Young (right thigh contusion), the Hawks come back from a 21-point deficit behind third-year forward John Collins, who finished the game with 33 points and 16 rebounds.
Although headlined by the fourth-leading scorer in the league in Young, the Hawks have sunk to the bottom of the Eastern Conference with an 11-34 record. The roster is stocked full of young players who play at the sixth-fastest pace in the league, averaging just over 103 possessions per game. Outside of Young, the youthful roster continues with integral pieces such as rookie forward Cam Reddish, second-year sharp shooter Kevin Huerter and third-year standout Collins. The Hawks youth comes with the exception of the longest tenured active player in the NBA in Vince Carter, who recently became the first player in NBA history to play in 22 seasons.
All eyes will be on the second-year point guards for both squads. Both Young and Gilgeous-Alexander sit in the Top 10 in multiple categories among second-year players and have taken massive strides since their respective rookie seasons. Young ranks first among sophomores in points with 29 per game, which is also good for fourth in the league. SGA ranks third with 19.8 per game.
Though both play the same position, their roles vary vastly from one another. Where Young’s main point of production is in scoring and assisting, Gilgeous-Alexander, with his size advantage among other guards, can affect the glass and reel in boards at a higher rate. He currently ranks fifth among second-year players in rebounds and over the last three games, has recorded three double-doubles in points and rebounds, where he previously had only three in his entire career.
Stat to Watch
Second chance points – This stat has played a major role in the outcomes of both teams’ most recent games. On Wednesday, the Hawks out-rebounded the Clippers on the offensive glass 23 to 8, resulting in 25 points off second chances. The Thunder, however, found itself in a opposite situation where the Magic were grabbing too many offensive rebounds for the Thunder’s liking. After giving up 10 in the first half, the Thunder collectively cleaned the glass and held Orlando to only one offensive rebound in the second.
After Wednesday’s win over Orlando, the Thunder moved to a season-high seven games above .500 with a 26-19 record. This includes four straight road wins. The recent success of the Thunder has come in a myriad of situations including comebacks, double-digit wins and back-and-forth battles that came down to the wire. In those clutch time situations this season, the Thunder have come out on top with a 15-4 record.
“The way we play together,” Chris Paul said plainly on what impresses him about his team’s success in this area. “On any given night, it could be Gallo [Danilo Gallinari], it could be myself, it could be Dennis [Schröder], Shai [Gilgeous-Alexander] – all different guys. So, in those situations we have so many weapons.”