the Oklahoma City Thunder welcomed in the Portland Trail Blazers to an icy Chesapeake Energy Arena on Tuesday night, as in this game the Thunder offense shots were as cold as the temperatures around Oklahoma. The OKC Thunder shot just 30-percent in the first frame. The team was able to improve those numbers in the second half, and it eventually resulted in 43-percent shooting from the floor, but just 30-percent from beyond the arc. At the charity stripe, the Thunder capitalized on 74-percent of their free throws.
The Thunder continued to battle, despite at one point being down 24 points without their best player in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and one of the team’s best scorers in George Hill. Sure, the Thunder labored their way to 104-points in the modern NBA and were dominated on the glass, and still lost the game by 11-points. However, the fight they showed in this game, even taking the lead late in the fourth frame, was a huge bright spot. This team lacked energy and effort in the first half, and Portland hit everything from beyond the arc nailing twenty (20!) 3’s as a team! This is a game that would have been acceptable for the young Thunder team to fold, but of course, they did not. Like Usain Bolt at the Olympics, they always have a run in them.
In this game, the biggest factor in that now common Thunder run, was Lu Dort. The not-yet 22-year-old stepped up without his running-mate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Dort, who had struggled shooting the 3-ball from beyond the arc the last few weeks, went 3-for-9 from downtown. After shooting 47-percent from deep in December, 35-percent in January, Dort’s 3-point stroke dropped to just 20-percent so far this month.
Tuesday’s game was a good reminder not to worry. As long as Lu Dort levels out to roughly. 33-percent, the exact percentage he shot against Portland and what he is currently shooting on the year, then his game will leap to a new level. That new level was on display against the Blazers.
Lu Dort facilitated the offense well, but his ability to create with the ball on the deck driving to the rim, finishing at the cup, or kicking out to his teammates. The multiple ways he can make an impact offensively, along with his incredible and frankly jaw-dropping defense, allows him to be the best defending wing we have ever seen in Oklahoma City…and that is not a light sentiment. Dort finished with 20-points, six-rebounds, three-assists, a steal, and a slam that created a highlight for him seen all over NBA Twitter and on ESPN’s “The Jump” all on 44-percent shooting from the floor.
Hamidou Diallo poured in 17-points off the Thunder bench, on 50-percent shooting from the floor while racking up four rebounds and a pair of assists. Diallo played extremely well! However, some mistakes in the clutch once again have tainted some fan’s views of the really good game Diallo turned in! Was the late third quarter foul against Carmelo Anthony a bad decision? Yes! Even Fox Sports Oklahoma play-by-play voice Chris Fisher was critical of the decision, which is rare. Did Diallo compound the issue by spending time complaining to refs instead of boxing out on a missed free throw that would have gone right to him? Absolutely! However, It is clear people forget how young Diallo is. Due to the fact he is the longest-tenured Thunder player, I think people are “over” him when his career is just getting started.
Hamidou Diallo is 22 years old! The same age as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander! Diallo, despite being on the Thunder since 2018, has never been put in these clutch situations and in closing or critical lineups until a week ago! So when he has bad moments to close out games, as he has the last week or so, remember he is still growing as a player. It is also okay to remember, these are not the spots he will be put in throughout his NBA career. He is having to elevate into a new role on the fly with the Thunder playing without two pieces of their closing lineup in SGA and George Hill. Do not let Diallo’s late-game woes overshadow a season in which he has proven he can be a 6th or 7th man on a really good team.
In this game, Portland did the thing they have done throughout the season. Grow a big lead, lose a big lead, have Damian Lillard bail them out with his incredible ability to win games in the clutch. Dame went for 31-points and nailed five 3’s, one being the dagger. In this game, Anfernee Simons was incredible going for 15 points but making five 3’s to do so.
The Oklahoma City Thunder flies to Memphis tonight for the second night of a back-to-back. For more on this game, check out Locked on Thunder.