It’s an odd thing, this Thunder season to date. It wasn’t that long ago I was trying to figure out which NBA team I would adopt this season as the Thunder tanked to find pieces to put around Shai Gilgeous Alexander for next season and beyond.
I’m to assume Billy Donovan and Sam Presti have both figured out they might already have that player on their roster as they’ve now seen thirty-two games of this season’s team.
Chris Paul is that player.
It was right there in front of them and maybe Sam Presti already knew this back in the summer when he was trading Paul George, Russell Westbrook, and Jerami Grant for a new beginning in Oklahoma City.
For those who haven’t noticed of late the ‘new beginning’ is fairly entertaining. Gone are the bad press conferences which followed a lot of head scratching bad losses which made one wonder what exactly was going through Russell Westbrook’s head at times.
I will never call Russell Westbrook a cancer in Oklahoma City. That would never ever be fair. But what I would write at this point is that I’m glad he’s in Houston. Likewise, I’m glad Kevin Durant is in Brooklyn with his two rings… but most of all, I’m glad Chris Paul is in Oklahoma City with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander this season because quite simply these two are making me want to get to the next game like a decade ago when I fell in love with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
There…I wrote it. I’ve fallen in love with the Oklahoma City Thunder again.
On Sunday evening in Toronto, Oklahoma City was without both Danilo Gallinari and Dennis Schroder. To be fair though, Toronto was without Paschal Siakam and Norman Powell as well. So it was a wash in a sense and the closeness of the game reflected this to the very end. Shai-Gilgeous ran off the final seconds eluding Toronto players who were trying to foul and send him to the line. It felt like a line was crossed with Presti’s reset as the buzzer sounded.
The fact Shai is Canadian and scored 32 points in Toronto is nice but not a big deal to me. This is what he’s been doing of late with consistency against teams in America as well. I mean, it wasn’t like Gretzky going back to Edmonton and scoring a hat trick in the last year of his career. These thirty-something point nights with Shai are becoming a thing we in the States are coming to terms with as this season moves along.
With Dennis Schroder out–it was simple in this game. The three-headed monster had to become a two-headed monster in Toronto. Voila. Chris Paul promptly had his best game to date this basketball season with a near triple double and no malice attached towards any in the post-game presser.
Chris Paul was magnificent. It was a Westrookian line with basketball smarts attached. It was hard not to think of those days we in Oklahoma thought Durant and Westbrook could play together like this and figure things out.
CP3’s line was 25 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists with a +12 for good measure. As good as I thought Shai was on this night–it’s possible Chris Paul was better.
Some other Thunder players had nice nights to fill the void of Dennis Schroder being a scratch.
Nerlens Noel had a 12 point night with some great energy on both ends of the floor.
Rookie Darius Bazely was given 29 minutes of playing time and responded with what I thought was his best game of the season in knocking down four three point shots and actually looking like he belonged out there.
Spark plug Lu Dort was given rotation minutes and responded with some nice energy minutes which is his contagious defense first role.
It was a good night in Toronto for a team from Oklahoma. The Thunder now stand at 17-15 three and a half games in front of teams fighting for the 8th seed in the West.
Gallinari hasn’t played in a while. It’s beginning to feel like he’s already gone and the Thunder have somewhat adjusted.
Next up: Luka and the Dallas Mavs at the Peake on New Years Eve.