Thunder wins in familiar fashion to enter All-Star break on a high note

Thunder wins in familiar fashion to enter All-Star break on a high note

The Thunder on Tuesday won its second straight game by a 127-113 score. And that wasn’t the only thing that looked familiar about a win over the Magic. 

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

| Feb 14, 2024, 9:02am CST

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

Feb 14, 2024, 9:02am CST

OKLAHOMA CITY — He feigned a drive baseline, then backed out, and then Shai Gilgeous-Alexander put on a spin move, drove again and stepped back into a picture-perfect fadeaway 14-footer. 

When it swished, the Thunder guard turned and shouted — to the crowd at the Kia Center, or to the Magic, maybe — “Go home!” 

It effectively put a cap on a 127-113 Thunder win Tuesday in Orlando, a game that looked familiar on so many levels, and not just because an Oklahoma City point guard tossed that particular taunt — once part of Russell Westbrook’s late-game lexicon — in the closing minutes. 

There was also that final tally, 127-113, remarkably and coincidentally the same score by which OKC had beaten the Sacramento Kings on Sunday. 

And then there was Gilgeous-Alexander’s 32-point night, paired with teammate Jalen Williams’ 33. It marked the second consecutive game each had topped 30. Gilgeous-Alexander had scored 38 and Williams 32 against the Kings. 

The consecutive 127-113 wins stood in stark contrast to the Thunder’s 146-111 loss last Saturday at Dallas, and they allowed OKC to enter this week’s All-Star break on a high note. 

At 37-17, the Thunder hits the break 20 or more games over .500 for the fifth time in 16 seasons. 

“Obviously since Dallas, I think that was like a good little wake-up call just for our intensity coming into games,” Williams told reporters in Orlando. “And the last two games… I think we’ve done a really good job of kind of coming out ready to set the tone and then being able to continue to do that for a full game. We played two really good teams.”

And came away with similar wins. 

More takeaways from OKC’s All-Star sendoff win:

Dynamic duo

Despite his big scoring number, Gilgeous-Alexander got off to a slow start Tuesday. He scored eight points in the first half, shooting 3 for 11. But Williams picked up the scoring load with 14 first-half points, making 6 of 8 shots. 

In the second half, the duo combined for 43 points on 14-of-23 shooting. 

It helped that — as it had against Sacramento — the Thunder pushed the pace in transition and made quick decisions in the halfcourt. The ball moved. Cutters found openings around the rim. 

That created scoring opportunities against a Magic team with a physical, active defense that allows 111.9 points per 100 possessions, fourth-fewest in the NBA. 

“They’re not a team that you want to try to play over or try to play slow against,” Daigneault said. They’ll swallow you up. I thought we did a really good job of moving them around the floor with ball movement, with floor movement, with cutting. We were fast tonight after stops on a lot of plays, especially in the third. That was really, really good and critical against obviously a very good defense.”

Despite a combined 65 points from Gilgeous-Alexander and Williams, the Thunder had good balance. Five other players scored at least eight points, and three — Chet Holmgren (13) and Josh Giddey and Isaiah Joe (10 each) — hit double figures. 

Daigneault credited the “cumulative effect” of his team’s balance for carrying the Thunder to a 60-52 halftime lead despite Gilgeous-Alexander and Holmgren (two points, 0-for-3 shooting) struggling in the first half. 

And having so many scoring threats, Williams said, accounted for part of his big night, which marked the first time in his NBA career he’d scored more than 30 points in consecutive games. 

“Our team does a good job moving without the ball, playing on the catch,” he said. “I’ve been saying that all year. We have a really talented group. So anybody any game can have a big game. So I think when you have a steady diet of that throughout the season, teams are worried about everybody else, which allows me to get to my spots.”

The defense rests (briefly)

Daigneault didn’t love the way the Thunder opened the game defensively — he noted the Magic’s 13 paint points in the first six minutes — but said his group “course corrected nicely right off the bat” after first-quarter substitutions that included Kenrich Williams and Jaylin Williams. 

After that, Daigneault said, OKC put the Magic in crowds, made it uncomfortable and was “able to stack up stops.”

That started, Jalen Williams said, with Holmgren’s presence around the rim. He blocked five shots, and though the Magic scored 50 points in the paint, it shot 25 of 44 (56.8%) there. The Thunder scored 46 points on 23-of-31 shooting (74.2%) in the paint. 

And though the bigger Magic had a 48-31 rebounding advantage, it had only a 12-7 advantage in second-chance points. 

“I think we upped our physicality, stopped giving so many easy drives to the basket,” Jalen Williams said. “Some of those resulted in fouls, but (it) just kind of (sent) the message.” 

The Thunder rests (less briefly) 

The Thunder gets a respite now from the season, but it’ll be longer for most players than for four with NBA All-Star Weekend obligations. 

Holmgren, Jalen Williams and rookie Cason Wallace are headed to Indianapolis to participate in Friday’s Rising Stars tournament. Gilgeous-Alexander is a starter in Sunday’s All-Star Game. 

But everybody gets some downtime. 

The Thunder is off until Feb. 22, when it hosts the L.A. Clippers, a game that could mark the OKC debut of new acquisitions Gordon Hayward and Bismack Biyombo, acquired via trade and free-agent signing, respectively, last week. 

Asked Tuesday if it felt good to go into the break after a pair of wins, Daigneault made clear he didn’t need the qualifier. 

“It feels good going into the break regardless of anything,” he said. “We’ve obviously had a good year. We’ve had great focus. I thought we ran through the finish line with these last two games. That was evident tonight. And now, got to take a deep breath, put some gas back in the tank and get ready for the stretch.”

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Brett Dawson, the Thunder beat writer at Sellout Crowd, has covered basketball for more than 20 seasons at the pro and college levels. He previously worked the Thunder beat at The Oklahoman and The Athletic and also has covered the New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers and L.A. Clippers. He’s covered college programs at Louisville, Illinois and Kentucky, his alma mater. He taught sports journalism for a year at the prestigious Missouri School of Journalism. You can reach him at [email protected] or find him sipping a stout or an IPA at one of Oklahoma City’s better breweries.

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