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By the time the Oklahoma City Thunder finally reached double-digit points in the first quarter of the game on Friday, the Phoenix Suns had already scored 37.
It didn’t get prettier for the Thunder. Intense Phoenix defense in the first half led by Mikal Bridges and potent offense sparked by strong ball movement was far too much for Oklahoma City to even compete against. The Suns, who hold the second-best record in the Western Conference, dismantled OKC 140-103.
“(The Suns’) aggressiveness and intensity to start the game was definitely there. They were the readier team to play,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said.
There are two positives to find from the Thunder in the 37-point shellacking, and both are rookies. One: Aleksej Pokusesvki had a very nice game, scoring 20 points on 50% shooting and making high-level drives and passes.
Two: Theo Maledon had 30 points through three quarters and finished the game with 33.
He joins Russell Westbrook as the only two rookies in Thunder history to score 30 points in one game. Westbrook reached that mark six times in his first season, peaking at 34 points.
“He looked like a real veteran point guard these last few games,” said wing Kenrich Williams.
Maledon on Friday recorded his tally on an efficient 10-for-18 night, hitting five of his seven 3s.
“The thing that was impressive about him is even when he had 28, 30 points, he was making the right plays down the stretch,” said Daigneault.
Maledon went 0-for-4 in the first quarter before making 10 of his final 14 shots. He also got to the line frequently, attempting a career-high 10 from the charity stripe.
“It’s something that I watch on film a lot, that I study a lot, how to draw fouls while driving,” he said. “Going downhill I feel like is something that I got more comfortable as the game went going.”
Maledon and Pokusevski became the first pair of teammates in NBA history younger than 20 years old to score 20 or more points in the same game, according to the Thunder.
Pokusevski’s scoring was notable for a couple reasons. His accuracy from deep is something new — he went 4-for-6 from behind the arc, his second-most made 3s and best percentage of his career.
But his scoring didn’t stand out the way his creation did. This next particular video clip drew attention, not only for the pass, but for the way he got around his man.
Bridges is an elite defender. He’s going to be in the All-NBA Defense conversation this season. The beginning of this highlight is cut off, but Pokusevski drove by him by dribbling to the right, putting on a slight hesitation and then going left.
Once the Thunder rookie got by Bridges, Deandre Ayton rotated over. Ayton’s defense is underrated and has become a stronger part of his game. Pokusevski attacked the 7-foot defender and found a ridiculous passing lane. The left-handed pass was a sight to behold:
All in all, perhaps the best NBA play so far in his career.
Here’s another nice drive-and-kick from the 19-year-old.
“I think in a lot of those passes, the size really helps. He’s all of 7-feet, he’s able to see over the defense and deliver a lot of those plays,” Daigneault said. “The passing instincts he kind of came in with, in training camp even. When he had advantages and the floor was kind of scrambled, he was always finding he right guy.”
Friday was a not a good game for Oklahoma City. The Thunder started slow, making just one of their first 15 shots, and made only four field goals in the first quarter as they trailed 43-13 at the end of the first 12 minutes.
The Thunder stabilized on offense afterward as they shot 48.4% from the field and 45.1% from 3 over the next three quarters and scored at least 26 in each. But their defense couldn’t do a thing against the Suns, who found immense success driving to the lane and was very good shooting from deep.
Devin Booker had 16 points and a plus-30 in the first quarter alone before coasting to 32 points on 20 shots over 30 minutes of play. Chris Paul scored 17 on perfect shooting and had 12 assists in 22 only minutes.
Oklahoma City also couldn’t control the glass as it normally does. Moses Brown had just seven rebounds, a team-high, as Phoenix outrebounded the Thunder 41-38.
The Suns played like a team who has the second-best record in the conference. The Thunder played like a team who is rebuilding, looking at youth and wants the best draft pick it can fall into. The result: 140 points for Phoenix and 103 for OKC.