OKC Thunder: Ranking the 10 best wins of the season
The Thunder beat the Celtics 105-104 Sunday in a rousing game in Boston that immediately was dubbed one of OKC’s signature wins of the season.
And it got me to thinking. How do you rate the best wins? I always give a lot of weight to road wins. And of course wins over elite teams. Rivalries matter – all things being equal, beating Houston trumps beating Toronto – and so do circumstances.
Put it all together, and here’s my list so far for the Thunder’s remarkable 40-24 season.
1. Jan. 9: Rockets 112-107, in Houston
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An MLK Day special, the Thunder trailed by 17 late in the third quarter, by 16 early in the fourth and by 15 with seven minutes left. But OKC roared back.
Danilo Gallinari had 11 points in the final 6:10, Dennis Schroder had nine points in the final seven minutes and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had seven points in the final five minutes.
This game is No. 1 because it encompasses everything. Road game. Against a bitter rival. Complete with a massive comeback.
2. March 8: Celtics 105-104, in Boston
You saw it. The Thunder, playing without Gilgeous-Alexander for the first time all season and survived the Celtics, who have the NBA’s fifth-best record.
Schroder’s steal from Kemba Walker produced the go-ahead layup with eight seconds to go, then Chris Paul badgered Boston’s Jayson Tatum into an 18-foot miss just before the buzzer.
The Celtics played without Jaylen Brown, but that was more than offset by the absence of SGA. And the Thunder passed the test.
3. Dec. 29: Raptors, 98-97 in Toronto
Toronto played without Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol and Norman Powell. But the Thunder played without Schroder and Gallinari, the only game all season OKC played without two of its four big scorers.
Gilgeous-Alexander scored a career high 32 points and Paul added 25. OKC used Abdel Nader as its sixth man. Deonte Burton played eight minutes. Kevin Hervey played seven minutes. SGA’s bank shot with 36 seconds left gave the Thunder the lead, then Fred VanVleet missed a 3-pointer for Toronto and OKC dribbled out the clock.
4. Dec. 6: Timberwolves, 139-127, OT, in OKC
The miracle victory. Minnesota led 121-119 with one second left in the game and had Karl-Anthony Towns on the foul line for two shots, and the Thunder was out of timeouts. And OKC got it to overtime, courtesy of a missed foul shot by KAT, a delay-of-game technical foul against Jordan Bell for entering the game with his shirt untucked and a length-of-the-court pass from Steven Adams to Schroder for a buzzer-beating scoop shot.
When this game arrived, the Thunder was 8-12, Minnesota was 10-10. Since then, OKC is 32-10 and the T-Wolves are 9-34.
5. Dec. 16: Bulls 109-106, in OKC
A homecourt win over one of the NBA’s worst teams shouldn’t count for much. But the Thunder trailed by 26 points in the second quarter and rallied to win, with Adams’ foul shot breaking a tie with four seconds left.
Five times this season, the Thunder has won despite trailing by at least 18 points. That kind of resiliency started with this game.
6. Dec. 22: Clippers, 118-112, in OKC
The Clippers played without Kawhi Leonard and Patrick Beverley, but OKC played without Gallinari. And the Thunder staged a comeback from 18 points down. Schroder scored 14 points in the final four minutes.
7. Dec. 9: Jazz, 104-90, in Salt Lake City
Coming off a victory in Portland the night before, the Thunder continued its turnaround. Utah played without point guard Mike Conley, but OKC played without Gallinari. And the Thunder dominated, leading 85-68 after three quarters and raising its record to 11-12.
8. Feb. 13: Pelicans 123-118, in New Orleans
In the final game before the all-star break, the Thunder ended a two-game losing streak and beat Zion Williamson, who was spectacular with 32 points.
Adams’ halfcourt shot at the halftime buzzer gave OKC an eight-point lead, and Gallinari’s clutch shooting down the stretch held off New Orleans.
9. Nov. 15: 76ers, 127-119, OT, at OKC
This was big because the Thunder was off to that rocky start (5-7 at the time) and would go on to lose three straight. Philly was struggling, too, at 7-5, but the 76ers had Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in what appeared to be the NBA’s best starting lineup.
Gallinari scored 28 points, Paul 27 and SGA 24. And in what seems like an alternative universe, Terrance Ferguson scored 19 and made five of seven 3-pointers.
10. Feb. 21: Nuggets 113-101, in OKC
The first game after the all-star break set the tone that the Thunder indeed would play strong down the stretch. OKC led just 78-77 after three quarters, but Adams scored on back-to-back possessions to open the fourth period, and the Thunder controlled the rest of the game against one of the West’s best teams.