As the Oklahoma City Thunder put the final touches on their 101-89 victory over Houston on Wednesday, there was one player that stood out among the rest.
It was Dort who helped the Thunder hold off Houston down the stretch, scoring 10 of the team’s final 16 points. His second basket in that stretch came after the Rockets cut the lead to five points, as he pump faked a Houston defender before calmly sinking a 3-pointer.
He helped seal the win with a put-back dunk on a missed shot, pushing the Thunder’s lead to 10 with two minutes left in the game.
By the time the game ended, Dort finished with a career-high 34 points, eight rebounds and two assists on 14-of-22 shooting.
It’s his second time scoring at least 30 points in his career. The last time? Game 7 against the Rockets in the first round of the 2020 playoffs.
“We try not to have any expectation, but it doesn’t surprise me because of the quality of pro he is and how hard he works and how consistently he’s worked,” Daigneault said. “... When a guy has that kind of substance, it’s not overly surprising. But he’s obviously on a nice run.”
He’s been a big key offensively for the Thunder, who have won three of their last five games. Over that stretch, Dort has averaged nearly 25 points per game on 59 percent shooting, and has scored 20 points or more in each contest.
Dort has made a name for himself with his play defensively. But now the focus is on continuing to improve offensively.
“I’ve just got to stay confident and always take the right shots,” Dort said. “I feel like I’ve been doing a good job just attacking the rim and taking open shots. I’ve just got to keep going.”
Dort’s scoring started from the opening tip against Houston, scoring the game’s opening basket and following it up with a 3-pointer to give the Thunder a 7-0 lead.
That quick start was key for the Thunder, who lost to the Rockets by 33 points in their first matchup last month.
“I felt like our first matchup wasn’t very good and not our best game, and for me I took that personally,” Dort said. “I remember how bad they beat us the first game. I had a talk with the team right before the game tonight. I feel like we just had to hit them first.”
The Thunder never trailed in the game, and even pushed the lead to 17 points late in the third quarter.
The Thunder didn’t shoot particularly well — 45 percent from the field and 26 percent from the 3-point line — but they made up for it with defense. They held Houston to just 36 percent shooting and 64 points through the first three quarters.
The Thunder keyed on Christian Wood, who finished with just 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting. In their matchup last month, Wood had 31 points and 14 rebounds.
“I thought our intensity was good,” Daigneault said. “I thought we were really, really good on the glass. I thought we were in the ball. They have a lot of guys that want to find a shot, and I thought our ball pressure and our initial help was really good tonight.
The team got other key contributions from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who overcame a poor shooting night with 15 points, seven rebounds and nine assists. Thunder rookie Josh Giddey also had 14 points, 11 rebounds and two assists.
With the win, the Thunder are now tied for the 10th seed in the Western Conference.
The team will face a tough test in their next outing as they travel to Milwaukee to take on the Bucks at 7 p.m. on Friday.