Sunday marked three nights since the Oklahoma City Thunder staged an improbable 19-point comeback against Russell Westbrook and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Sunday also marked three nights since the Thunder stepped onto an NBA floor. A 3-day rest is certainly welcome in today's NBA, but it was no surprise to see Oklahoma City start the night rusty against the San Antonio Spurs.
Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault called a timeout three-and-a-half minutes into Sunday’s game after the Spurs jumped out to a 9-0 lead. OKC missed its first seven shot attempts and committed two turnovers. The team trailed the Spurs by as many as 16 points in the opening half.
Eventually, Oklahoma City woke up from its slumber in the second half to win 99-94 over the Spurs, its first non-Lakers win of the season.
First Takeaway: The Hyphen Brothers
Whatever it was -- a halftime pep talk, some time to clear the mind or an extended water break – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl came alive after halftime.
Gilgeous-Alexander waking up in the third quarter isn’t much of a surprise. He is *the* guy, after all.
The wild card in Sunday’s game was Robinson-Earl, a rookie.
The second-round draft pick looked timid to start the game, standing around on defense and having the ball stick to his hands whenever it came his way. He went 0-for-3 shooting the ball, had a shot blocked in the opening quarter and sat out the remainder of the first half.
But he returned to start the third, scoring OKC’s first five points to cut San Antonio’s lead to five points. A JRE 3-pointer later in the quarter gave the Thunder its first lead at 66-65. The team made seven shots in a row at that point, a far cry from its 23 percent field goal shooting in the first quarter.
SGA and JRE, the Hyphen Brothers (trademark pending?), would later collaborate on key back-to-back possessions in the final period. With under four-and-a-half minutes left, Gilgeous-Alexander drew in the Spurs defense by driving into the paint, dribbled a bounce pass to Robinson-Earl who then hit a corner 3-pointer to make it 93-86 Thunder.
Seconds later, with his eyes forward, SGA threw Robinson-Earl an alley-oop pass from halfcourt. JRE flushed it home and flushed away any chance for the Spurs to get any closer.
When asked about what he envisions for Robinson-Earl after the game, you could say Daigneault has a pretty high ceiling for him.
Second Takeaway: Laying Bricks In Bricktown
The third quarter was the period where fortunes shifted for the Thunder, but Oklahoma City’s defense along the perimeter in the first half made the shift possible.
The Thunder’s plan to force Dejounte Murray and Derrick White to give up the rock was executed to perfection (2-for-15 shooting in the first half). Murray, San Antonio’s leading scorer at 18.4 points per game, seemed content spreading the ball around (nine assists) even though his shot wasn’t falling (5-for-19).
White, who averaged nearly 14 points per game entering Sunday, missed all 10 of his shot attempts and finished the night scoreless.
Oklahoma City held San Antonio to 14 points in the third quarter alone. An average 3-point shooting team (34.1 percent entering Sunday), the Spurs’ six made threes Sunday night were four shy of their nightly average for the season (9.8).
The missed shots are becoming a familiar trend for the Spurs, who have now lost their fourth game after leading an opponent by 10 or more points this season.
Third Takeaway: As The Baze Goes By
Hello. This is your semi-regular reminder that Darius Bazley is just 21 years old. Incredibly, Bazley is now the same age as NBA pup Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.
One of Bazley’s M.O.’s during his first two years in the NBA is seeing how his offensive aggression in the first quarter dictates how aggressive the rest of his game will be.
Sometimes, he’ll try to get his shot going off the bat. If he’s on the mark, you’d likely get all-around quality minutes out of the swingman. If his shot was off, the rest of his abilities would likely be off by extension.
During the first quarter of Sunday’s game, Bazley didn’t force anything offensively, but he was still a dangerous man on the court. He ran the floor on fastbreak opportunities, finished an alley from rookie guard Josh Giddey, grabbed three rebounds, had a steal and a blocked shot.
Bazley’s complete 11-point, 11-rebound and four-assist performance drew rave reviews from his head coach.
He’s got the tools to be a force on the floor. Doing so consistently is now the name of the game.