Surprise: Thunder bench contributing to team's success
Cavaliers forward Alfonzo McKinnie, immediately realizing his mistake, hunched and rested his hands on his knees. Thunder guard Hamidou Diallo intercepted McKinnie’s careless pass, and no one stood between Diallo and the basket.
McKinnie turned his head to watch the NBA’s reigning slam dunk champion punish the rim and pulverize any hope of a Cleveland comeback.
“It was sick,” Thunder point guard Chris Paul told reporters after the game.
The ball exited the net with such force that it bounced all the way to halfcourt.
Diallo’s fourth-quarter dunk was the meanest of the Thunder’s bench points Saturday night in its 121-106 win against the Cavaliers. The Thunder bench outscored the Cavaliers’ bench 52-19 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
Diallo scored 10 points. Dennis Schroder led with 22 points. Fellow reserves Darius Bazley, Mike Muscala, Abdel Nader and Nerlens Noel combined for 20 points.
The Thunder (20-15) has been one of the NBA’s biggest overachievers thanks in part to substantial scoring and solid defense from its bench.
A starting lineup of Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Terrance Ferguson, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams was always expected to keep the team afloat. Before the season, a lack of depth was thought to be OKC’s most glaring deficiency.
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But the Thunder bench has been above league average through 35 games.
OKC’s bench ranks 10th in points per game (38.9) and ninth in field goal percentage (45.7%). Schroder is averaging 18.5 points per game — second among all bench scorers behind Clippers center Montrezl Harrell.
Despite the high point totals, the Thunder bench ranks just 25th in offensive rating. That’s offset by the seventh-best defensive rating of any NBA bench. In all, a 0.7 net rating for the Thunder bench ranks 13th in the league. The Thunder hasn’t had a positive net rating from its bench since the 2015-16 season.
“I think Dennis has given us a really good boost off the bench,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan told reporters Saturday night. “He’s in a really good flow right now and I think it’s been two games in a row with Darius playing very, very well. Even Hamidou back being healthy, I think that we’ve got some athleticism and speed and quickness.”
McKinnie and the Cavs can attest to that. Diallo’s slam ousted a mini run, just as the Cavaliers cut the Thunder’s lead to 10 points with nine minutes left.
“I’m sure coach was ready to call a timeout,” Paul said. “Hami got that steal and it was a momentum breaker.”
Thunder at 76ers
When: 6 p.m., Monday
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37/HD 722, DirecTV 675, U-verse 751/1751)
Radio: WWLS-AM 640 / 98.1 FM