OKC Thunder: Five takeaways from season-opening win at Hornets
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, rarely in a hurry, crossed midcourt at the five-second mark with the Thunder and Hornets tied 107-107.
Hornets forward Cody Martin backpedaled to stay in front of the young Thunder guard, but Gilgeous-Alexander caught Martin with a filthy in-and-out dribble.
Martin was prepared for Gilgeous-Alexander to burst toward the basket, but Gilgeous-Alexander pulled up for a deep 2-pointer from the right wing. Martin, who almost tripped over his feet, was out of position as Gilgeous-Alexander splashed the go-ahead shot with 1.4 seconds left.
The Thunder’s 109-107 win at Charlotte in the season opener was sealed after Hornets guard Terry Rozier missed a 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
Here are five takeaways from the game:
The Thunder led the Hornets by a comfortable 13 points with 2:13 left, but Oklahoma City turned the ball over four times and missed four free throws in the final two minutes.
Hornets forward Miles Bridges made sure the Thunder paid for its mistakes. Bridges scored 11 points in the final minute and six seconds. He drained back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers in a 15-second span.
Bridge’s last triple tied the game 107-107 with 10.3 seconds left.
Then came Gilgeous-Alexander’s shot.
“I've got a couple moves I like to get to on the (isolation),” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Then after that it's just read and reaction.
“I gave him a left-handed in-and-out. I had been doing it all game, going left. So then I crossed over, went right, and he was backing up so hard. And I figured if I stopped on a dime and pulled up, it'd be hard for him to get a good contest. That's a shot that I practiced a lot.”
Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 24 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.
Mark Daigneault, making his NBA head coaching debut, started Gilgeous-Alexander, George Hill and Luguentz Dort in the backcourt with Darius Bazley at power forward and Al Horford at center.
It’s the same starting lineup Daigneault went with in the Thunder’s final preseason game.
Daigneault stuck with his starters for the first six minutes of the first and third quarters.
Mike Muscala was the first man off the bench, replacing Horford at center.
Hill’s sizzling debut
Hill’s only miss Saturday night was a gimme at the rim, but he followed that with a banked 3-pointer that put the Thunder ahead 102-89 with 2:13 left.
Hill scored 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting in his Thunder debut. He made all four of his 3-point attempts.
Hill, who led the NBA in 3-point shooting last season, was the seventh player in Thunder history to score at least 20 points in his OKC debut.
“Just having fun out there, you know,” Hill said. “I was never big on percentages and things like that. I just take the shots that the defense gives me and play the right way.”
Bazley starts strong
Bazley was 0-of-4 from 3-point range heading into the fourth quarter, but he drained his fifth attempt to put the Thunder ahead by 10 points with just under six minutes left.
Bazley was more effective around the rim. The second-year forward already looks more comfortable than last season in putting the ball on the floor and attacking.
In the third quarter, Bazley spun past Hornets guard LaMelo Ball on the baseline and finished a tough step-through layup over Bridges.
“Those layers are absolutely there for him,” Daigneault said of Bazley’s offensive development. “We’re confident in his ability to continue to grow in those areas.”
Bazley had a double double with 15 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks.
Aleksej Pokusevski bricked all six of his 3-point attempts and Theo Maledon committed four turnovers. In other words, it was a typical rocky debut for the Thunder’s two rookies.
Maledon played 20 minutes and Pokusevski played 11. Both made their NBA debuts in the first quarter.
The Thunder was outscored by 16 points with Maledon on the floor. Pokusevski, on his 19th birthday, was a minus-11.
“It was great to have them out there and it was great experience for them,” Daigneault said. “It's their first taste of an NBA game.”
Daigneault said Charlotte deployed an aggressive defense that was hard to prepare for, especially for rookies.
“They're walking out there in their first game and they're seeing something they probably haven't seen on an NBA court even in the preseason, so it's just a starting point.”
Ball, Charlotte’s lead rookie, had 13 points and six rebounds off the bench.