Without the services of Chris Paul, the Thunder looked a little lost to start Tuesday’s scrimmage against the Portland Trail Blazers.
A Lugentz Dort 3-pointer was the only made shot in nearly five minutes to start the scrimmage, and the Blazers took an early lead as the Thunder offense struggled without Paul (rest).
The Thunder eventually picked up the pace and turned defense into offense, forcing the Blazers into turnovers and taking advantage with easy points in transition. By the end of the first quarter, the Thunder held a 30-26 advantage.
The team held their early lead the rest of the way, carrying it to a 131-120 victory.
Rookie forward Darius Bazley led the team in scoring with 20 points, followed by 16 points from guard Hamidou Diallo and 13 points from Dort.
Both teams were missing key players, as Paul, Nerlens Noel (missed COVID-19 test) and Terrance Ferguson (leg contusion) sat out Tuesday’s scrimmage. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum both sat out to rest.
The Thunder finished with a 3-0 record in the three scheduled scrimmages. The team’s first seeding game against the Utah Jazz is set for Saturday.
Here are four things to know from Tuesday’s scrimmage as the Thunder prepares for its first meaningful games in the NBA Bubble at Disney World.
1. SGA runs the point: Thunder coach Billy Donovan elected to insert Gilgeous-Alexander as the team’s starting point guard with Paul unavailable. Gilgeous-Alexander was in facilitator mode for most of his 16 minutes of action, finishing with seven assists and only taking four shots.
It’s been rare for Gilgeous-Alexander to play without Paul or Dennis Schröder this season. Only 3% of his minutes have been spent as the team’s point guard this season, according to Basketball Reference.
Still, he looked comfortable during Tuesday’s scrimmage. During an impressive offensive stretch in the second quarter, Gilgeous-Alexander ran several pick and rolls that forced the Blazers to switch center Jusuf Nurkic onto him, and Gilgeous-Alexander took advantage, hitting two step-back 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions.
Gilgeous-Alexander did not play in the second half. He finished with a solid stat line of 10 points, three rebounds, seven assists and only one turnover.
2. Thunder rebounds from poor shooting performance: After a slow start to the first quarter, the Thunder caught fire from behind the arc, as it hit 20 of its 40 3-point attempts and made 51.7% of their shots from the floor. 11 different players made a 3-pointer. Both Dort and Bazley hit three 3-pointers.
One player who didn’t shoot well for the Thunder is Danilo Gallinari, whose offensive struggles at Disney World continued Tuesday. Gallinari shot 3 of 9 from the floor and just 32% from the floor over the team’s three scrimmages.
Maybe he’s just finding his rhythm, but if the team hopes to make a playoff push, they will need more from their second-leading scorer.
3. Bazley continues to impress: Bazley contributed in a big way to the team’s first-quarter lead. He scored 10 of his 20 points in the frame, including two 3-pointers, and he was aggressive every time he had the ball.
One question for the team heading into the Disney Bubble was how Donovan would round out his playoff rotation, and it’s safe to say Bazley has outplayed his competition (Diallo, Ferguson, Abdul Nader) and has likely earned a spot with his scrimmage performances.
4. Roberson returns to the starting lineup: Andre Roberson made his long-awaited return to the starting lineup on Tuesday in Paul’s place, and again made an impact in limited minutes. He finished with seven points, five rebounds and one assist in 17 minutes, and made one of his two 3-point attempts.
With Paul set to return on Saturday, Dort will likely keep his place in the starting lineup, relegating Roberson to the bench. Saturday’s game could be very telling as to how Donovan plans to use Roberson once the season officially resumes.
Saturday’s Thunder game against the Utah Jazz is set for 2:30 p.m. The game will air on FOX Sports Oklahoma, ESPN and WWLS-FM 98.1 in Oklahoma City.