OKC Thunder: Hot shooting from Darius Bazley, Mike Muscala fuel blowout of Wizards
Mike Muscala swished a 3-pointer on a between-the-legs feed from Chris Paul. Two minutes later, Paul found Muscala on a pick-and-pop for another triple.
It was clear from the opening tip Sunday that the Thunder was playing a different brand of offense without bruising center Steven Adams and his rim running backup, Nerlens Noel, available.
Muscala and emergency backup center Darius Bazley didn’t dominate inside. Instead, they beat the Wizards from deep in the Thunder’s 121-103 win.
Muscala, earning his first start of the season, scored nine of the Thunder’s first 16 points on three 3-pointers. He finished with 14 points on 4-of-8 3-point shooting.
“Mike got us off to a great start,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I think Chris (Paul) and he work very, very well in pick-and-roll together.”
Bazley was even better. The 20-year-old rookie scored a career-high 23 points as he shot 5-of-8 from 3-point range. Bazley entered the game as a 30% 3-point shooter, but he’s shooting 42% from long range in the bubble.
“I think he shot the ball better tonight because he took better shots,” Donovan said. “He really had a nice combination of when to shot fake and drive it, and obviously when to take the three ... I thought he really made some good decisions and played well.”
Bazley’s previous career high was 17 points. He became the youngest reserve in Thunder history to score at least 20 points.
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Bazley attributed his offensive growth to his teammates and coaches trusting him.
“Knowing they’re confident in me and what I can do allows me to go out there and be confident on the offensive end,” Bazley said.
Adams (left leg) and Noel (right ankle) were late scratches Sunday. Donovan expected both to be available when he held his pregame press conference.
Their absences allowed the Thunder to stretch the floor from every position. Oklahoma City shot 46% from behind the arc and tied its season high with 18 3-pointers.
Bazley and Muscala accounted for half.
“Those two guys are different kinds of players than Nerlens and Steven, but we were able to play to their strengths,” Donovan said. “It was good to see them do what they did. Now, we didn’t obviously have a real dominant, big center to go against.”
Washington’s front line lacked a Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic, Anthony Davis or Jonas Valanciunas — all big men the Thunder has battled in the bubble.
Wizards center Thomas Bryant, like Bazley and Muscala, attempted most of his shots from 3-point range.
The timing was right for Adams and Noel to sit, and for Muscala and Bazley to step out.
“I thought both of those guys played really, really well,” Donovan said, “and gave us a different dimension from the perimeter.”