The Oklahoma City Thunder will put their improved play to the test when they tip off a three-game California swing against the host Golden State Warriors on Saturday night.
After opening the season with 21- and 33-point drubbings on the road against the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets, respectively, the Thunder got progressively better during a three-game homestand, losing by 12 to the Philadelphia 76ers and eight to the Warriors before shocking the Los Angeles Lakers 123-115 on Wednesday night.
The Thunder will see the Lakers again at the end of this trip during a two-game stop in Los Angeles, where they also will tackle the Los Angeles Clippers.
Oklahoma City nearly got its first win in a 106-98 loss to the Warriors on Tuesday. They led by 12 in the third quarter before Golden State used a scoring burst bridging the third and fourth periods to take the lead for good.
The Thunder got within four down the stretch, but Damion Lee capped a 20-point night with a pair of late baskets late to seal Golden State’s fourth straight win.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr was impressed with the opponent.
“They’re a young team and it’s going to be a struggle for them for sure,” Kerr said. “It’s just where they are as a franchise. But they’re going to be capable of beating anybody on a given night, and we kind of felt like we were primed for an upset just with the way our respective seasons have started. We expected them to play well, and they did.”
Oklahoma City got that upset the next night against the Lakers behind Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s 27 points.
Thunder coach Mark Daigneault was equally awed by his star’s nine rebounds and five assists.
“His awareness and investment in the team and his teammates is pretty special for a really ambitious young player,” he boasted. “He’s just got unbelievable balance between his own ambition and his willingness to plug into the team, and it’s a contagious effect.”
Having already awakened the Warriors to their competitiveness with the tight game four days ago, the Thunder will have another issue to deal with in the rematch.
Instead of riding high on a season-opening winning streak like they were earlier in the week, the Warriors this time could be motivated to rebound from their first loss of the season, 104-101 in overtime at home against the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday.
Stephen Curry, who had 36 points in the loss, had — by his standards — the fourth subpar shooting effort in his five outings against Memphis, going 11-for-29. That came on the heels of a 6-for-14 night against the Thunder, leaving the 47.6-percent career shooter at 42.0 percent for the season.
Lee, who is Curry’s brother-in-law, has helped pick up the slack. He has hit exactly half his 34 shots in the last three games, including going 9-for-18 on 3-pointers.
The clubs have traded season-series sweeps the last two years, with Oklahoma City winning three straight — all in the first 18 games of the season — in 2019-20, before Golden State reversed things to take three in a row last season, when the clubs didn’t meet for a first time until 55 games into the campaign.
–Field Level Media