The OKC Thunder got off to a slow start Sunday night as the club played its fifth game in seven nights. Nonetheless, the group stayed resilient and relied on 3-point efficiency and superb bench play as OKC handed the Cavs its tenth straight loss, 117-101.
To say this game got off to a rocky start would have to be an understatement as the starting unit looked lackadaisical and lacked defensive awareness in the first quarter. Darius Bazley looked out of sorts on Sunday night as he was slow to get back on transition and missing simple defensive assignments, such as rotating to the corner to close out on wide-open 3-point baskets.
Coach Mark Daigneault must have sensed the lack of effort as he pulled everyone but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander midway through the first quarter. OKC Thunder was down 10 points at this juncture of the contest, but the lead dissipated when Hamidou Diallo and Kenrich Williams helped the Thunder make a 14-4 scoring run over three minutes to close out the period. OKC finished the quarter with a 31-28 lead, shooting 63 percent from the field.
SGA was aware of the rumblings on his All-Star status as the young Thunder point guard exploded for 31 points in 35 minutes of play while amassing nine assists and four rebounds. Shai shot a perfect 3 of 3 from the 3-point line in the Thunder victory against Cleveland.
This game was a complete effort by OKC. Even dealing with the slow start, the Thunder figured out a way to adjust accordingly and play to the team’s strengths rather than play down to the competition, which is what seemed to be the case in the first portion of the contest.
Three takeaways provide more insight into the blowout victory.
OKC Thunder takeaway No.1) Slow starts cannot continue for this young team moving forward
The Thunder did not seem prepared to play after tip-off ensued Sunday night. The Cavaliers jumped out to a quick start, and the Thunder defense seemed dazed and confused as the club fell behind in fast fashion due to slow rotation on the defensive end.
Darius Bazley never looked comfortable at any point in time during the game, as he failed to record his first basket until there was a minute to go in the first period. He was spotted multiple possessions jogging back on defense or standing in the paint when he was supposed to be rotating on the perimeter.
Bazley’s play is noteworthy because this lack of intensity and defensive awareness permits OKC to fall into a hole that only takes more time and effort to crawl out of when the game starts to find a rhythm. Had Daigneault not substituted Baze and rolled the dice with the second unit, the first quarter deficit would have been more extensive than 10 points.
The only player on the OKC roster that looked willing to participate in Sunday’s first period was SGA. The OKC point guard had eight points in the first and looked well energized as he had little to no help from the rest of the starting unit.
The Thunder will need to find more energy in the first quarter, so this group can stay away from playing from behind. Expect Bazley to bounce back against the Miami Heat.