Pokusevski breaks out for resilient OKC
A Thunder team missing half of its roster and down four starters refused to take a loss that almost seemed predetermined.
The Thunder scored 38 points in the fourth quarter to shock the Grizzlies 128-122 on Sunday afternoon at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Oklahoma City shot a season-high 58% from the field and 52% from 3-point range — heights it had no business reaching with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander starting alongside Ty Jerome, Justin Jackson, Aleksej Pokusevski and Moses Brown.
Free throws (82%) were the only thing keeping the Thunder out of the exclusive 50/40/90 club.
It took that kind of shooting performance to overcome a season-high 24 turnovers. Isaiah Roby coughed it up nine times and Gilgeous-Alexander committed five turnovers as Memphis outscored OKC 35-11 in points off turnovers.
But Gilgeous-Alexander once again led the Thunder down the stretch, scoring a game-high 30 points, including nine in the fourth quarter.
“It really shows our resilience,” forward Kenrich Williams said. “It shows how we’re able to have next-man-up mentality.”
Here are four other takeaways from the game:
Thunder rookie Aleksej Pokusevski had the kind of game fans were waiting for.
He scored a career-high 23 points and notched his first double-double with 10 rebounds. He played a team-high 39 minutes.
“He kind of popped tonight obviously,” coach Mark Daigneault said, “but I think you gotta remember he looked different in the G League bubble. And then he looked different against Dallas … I think it’s important to look at the overall trajectory. It’s not gonna be linear. It’s gonna be one step back, one step forward, one step back, one step forward.
“Tonight it’s one step back, two steps forward. And now he knows what a game like tonight feels like, which gives him confidence.”
Pokusevski became the youngest player in Thunder history (19 years, 78 days) to score 20 points. He became the youngest player in NBA history with at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and five 3-pointers in a game.
Pokusevski looked comfortable in draining back-to-back 3-pointers in the third quarter. He shot 5-of-8 from behind the arc.
Pokusevski has logged his two highest-scoring games of the season since returning from the G League bubble.
“Every game is an opportunity to learn,” Pokusevski said.
Brown, Jerome start
Daigneault did not disclose his starters as he normally does before games. Outside of Gilgeous-Alexander, nothing was certain.
Daigneault went with Gilgeous-Alexander, Jerome, Jackson, Pokusevski and Brown.
For Jerome and Brown, Sunday marked the first starts of their NBA careers.
“That’s just something as a young player, something you really wanna grow up and experience,” Brown said. “And today I got a chance to experience it.”
Both Jerome and Brown are in their second seasons. Jerome played 31 games for the Suns last season without logging a start. Brown appeared in nine games off Portland’s bench last season.
Point Poku lineup
The Thunder closed the first quarter and played the first six minutes of the second quarter with a crazy lineup: Pokusevski, Williams, Roby, Darius Miller and Mike Muscala.
Point Poku, anyone?
“What I like best is his confidence,” Williams said. “For his size, Poku has so much skill. He’s playing point guard for us a little bit at 7-foot. That’s crazy.”
Somehow that lineup outscored the Grizzlies 20-17 in the first half. Once it checked out, the Grizzlies went on a 14-4 run.
That same lineup erased a 10-point deficit to begin the fourth quarter.
“That’s a big lineup,” Williams said. “I thought it was good for us because we were able to really rebound the ball well. I thought Poku did a real good job of getting the team organized, getting us in our positions and making plays out of the pick-and-roll.”
Pokusevski, Roby, Williams and Miller all shared ball handling duties.
For Miller, it was his first game since Feb. 17.
Muscala finally got off the bench after being held out the two previous games.
“They didn’t care who made the play, who took the shot,” Daigneault said of the lineup. “They just had it spraying around. All five of them were playmaking.”
Good luck keeping track of who’s in and who’s out for the Thunder.
Gilgeous-Alexander returned from a quad injury, but guards Luguentz Dort (left toe sprain) and Theo Maledon (right ankle sprain) were added to the injury report and didn’t play. Center Al Horford (rest) was also out with it being the second game of a back-to-back.
Darius Bazley (left shoulder contusion), George Hill (right thumb surgery) and Josh Hall (left knee soreness) remained out.
Svi Mykhailiuk, recently acquired from the Pistons, has not joined the team.
The Thunder only had nine players available against the Grizzlies.