The Oklahoma City Thunder took the court today in Oklahoma City and embarked on the biggest stretch of the season, a stretch that will change the fate of this franchise, welcoming in the Charlotte Hornets. The team entered this game as five an a half point underdogs. Missing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Darius Bazley, Lu Dort, Mike Muscala, Al Horford, Darius Miller, Isaiah Roby, and Josh Hall. That left the team with nine active players, who have an average age of younger than 22.4.
The Hornets were missing just three players, Malik Monk, Gordon Hayward, and LaMelo Ball. They came out with a certain buzz defensively, not allowing a Thunder bucket until the 8-minute mark. The Hornets played active defense, frustrating the Thunder in the passing lanes, and was just simply more physical than OKC to start the contest.
After a pair of early OKC timeouts in the first quarter, one coming prior to the seven-minute mark, the Thunder settled in.
Helping OKC settle down, was the youngest player in the NBA, Aleksej Pokusevski. He was the heart of the offense, accounting for 12 first-half points, four triples, six rebounds, and two assists along with three turnovers. Poku once ago did what three months ago was considered impossible as he put up effective shooting splits going 66-percent from the floor and beyond the arc. His lone shot inside the arc did not count as an attempt as his lone personal foul was a charge while in the act of attempting the dunk of the year over Jaden McDaniels.
The newly added Jaylen Hoard, who is playing the rest of this season on a two-way contract, had a very impressive first half. Tough finishes around the rim allowed him to pour in nine first-half points while playing quality defense against Devonte’ Graham. Hoard ended with 13 points, five for five from the line, and a rebound in this one.
Right out of the gate in the second half, Aleksej Pokusevski popped another triple pulling OKC within two. The Thunder, who were once down by ten points saw this game tied five times, and six lead changes just two minutes into the third quarter.
Poku finished the game with a Thunder franchise record for most 3’s made by a rookie (7), and 25 points, but left the game early due to a hip injury. The Thunder rookie after the game told those of us in the media, he sustained the injury on the first quarter dunk attempt that was called a charge as Jaden McDaniels rotated perfectly into position. Mark Daigneault added postgame, that the only way to have a shot at having Poku available tomorrow against the Cavs, was to pull him early in this one.
If Aleksej Pokusevski is sidelined tomorrow, and if the Thunder does not get anyone back from today’s injury report, the Thunder are down to eight players available in an important game against the Cavs. OKC is 1.5-games out of the 5th spot on Tankathon, occupied by the Cavs, entering tomorrow.
Theo Maledon had another solid game, making a few defensive highlights from his two blocks, one being against Cody Zeller on a beautiful rotation to stop a Zeller dunk, to his impactful charge, Maledon flashed his defensive prowess, which he has shown at times this year. The 19-year-old dished out five assists, grabbed five rebounds (all on the defensive glass), and poured in 25 points.
Eventually, this back-and-forth game turned into a comfortable Hornets win, 113-102. The Thunder will do it all over again tomorrow, against the Cavs.