Oklahoma City – The Thunder were back home tonight hosting the Pelicans after a short road trip to Phoenix a few nights ago where the Suns ended their 3 game winning streak so the Thunder wanted to get back in the win column a day after Christmas.
They were a little short handed after it was announced before the game that Darius Bazley and Tre Mann were both in health and safety protocols. It wasn’t going to be any easier for the Pelicans either because they were without Jonas Valanciunas, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and a few other guys that get consistent minutes for them and still don’t have Zion.
The last time these two teams played they gave us the craziest ending to a game I’ve ever seen at any level. The game was much better than anticipated so this likely wouldn’t have lived up to the previous one. It was still a decent game.
The Thunder came out hot and looked like they wanted to get the game over with early. They played very well on both ends to start the game. Particularly on the defensive end causing 7 first quarter turnovers with 6 of them being steals. They were very active and set the tone for the night and were able to get the victory over the Pelicans with a 117-112 final score.
There were plenty of reasons why they won the game but here are the top 3.
1) Next Man Up
The Thunder were missing Tre Mann and Darius Bazley tonight, both guys who are in their primary rotation and get lots of minutes for the team, so someone had to step up and replace the contributions they give. Also, neither Lu Dort or Josh Giddey played particularly well on the offensive end so that made the need for someone to step up more. Insert Aaron Wiggins. Wiggins has been with the Thunder G-League team most of the year and hasn’t really had the opportunity to showcase his skills but with guys out and not playing well, it was the perfect night for him to do so and he took the opportunity. He had a career high 24 points on 8-10 shooting and was the Thunder secondary scorer all night. It was the most comfortable he’s looked all year. Even more impressive, he is the first Thunder rookie from the 2021 class to have a 20 point game. The other 3 have had more opportunities to do so but Aaron does it in his 5th game starting. It really speaks to how good this Thunder rookie class is. Even more, this isn’t the first time someone has stepped up for the Thunder when guys were out or not playing well. It speaks to how much work the team puts in everyday and how every guy on this roster stays ready.
2) Moving On Offense
It’s no secret that the Thunder offense isn’t that good. In fact, it’s the second worst offense in the league. One of their issues is they don’t have enough player or ball movement in the offense which causes them to settle more often than not. That wasn’t the case tonight. From the start, there was plenty of player and ball movement going on which opened up things a lot. The movement helped get Wiggins going big time. They also had the 3rd most assists in a game they’ve had all season. It’s also no coincidence that they had the second most points in a game they’ve had all season when they move the ball more. It wasn’t lazy offense tonight and the movement was fun to watch. They did have some momentary lapses of stagnant offense but for most of the game they played really well on that end of the floor. When they do play this way they’re really fun to watch
3) Shot Selection
This one is a little surprising. Usually the Thunder shot selection is bad but tonight it wasn’t. They took 36 3s but not many of them were settling and they didn’t shoot 36.1% from there. Even better, they created most of those 3s by playing inside out. This is the way to play for them. When they establish themselves in the paint they open up their offense much more. Tonight they only had 42 shots in the paint but it’s not about the amount of shots it’s about them getting to the paint and then kicking it out to an open guy and making extra passes. It was probably the best their offense has looked all year.
The Thunder were led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who had 31 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 blocks and Aaron Wiggins who had a career high 24 points and 6 rebounds. Jeremiah Robison Earl added 15 points and 7 rebounds while Lu Dort added 13 points. Theo Maledon who hasn’t played in a while had 12 points and 5 rebounds off the bench while Kenrich Williams had 10 points and 5 rebounds off the bench. Josh Giddey had a weird stat line with 10 rebounds and 10 assists but didn’t score. He’s the first player to have that kind of double double since Norm Van Lier did so in 1971.
The team hits the road for a 2 game back to back road trip staring in Sacramento on Tuesday night.
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