Player grades: Short-handed Thunder snap losing streak with 121-118 win over Hornets

As Brandon Miller’s last-second 3-pointer bounced off the rim, OKC breathed a sigh of relief. The final buzzer sounded and OKC tasted victory for the first time in a week. A flavor that’s been badly craved.

The short-handed Oklahoma City Thunder collected a much-needed 121-118 win over the Charlotte Hornets. The road win snapped a season-high three-game loss streak amid Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s and Jalen Williams’ absences. It also wrapped up a season-high five-game road trip.

“These games this week were really valuable for us,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said on the win. “I think there’s individual players that gained a lot of confidence from this. From the experience of more minutes and kinda bigger roles. When we insert Shai and Jalen back in, hopefully they can maintain that confidence.”

As the Thunder’s offense stagnated these last couple of contests without their top two scorers, they looked crisper out of the gates. OKC got off to a 10-2 start and ended the first quarter with a 31-29 lead.

After being tied at 33 apiece in the opening minutes of the second frame, the Thunder went on a 20-7 run to build a 13-point lead with over five minutes left in the first half. OKC scored 36 points in the second frame and entered halftime with a 65-55 advantage.

The Thunder grew their lead to 14 points in the opening minutes of the third frame and it felt like they were on their way to cruising for a stress-free win. Instead, a Hornets’ 13-4 run cut OKC’s lead to five points with a little under four minutes left in the quarter.

After the Thunder ballooned their lead back to 86-76 with three minutes left, Charlotte closed the quarter with nine straight points. Suddenly, OKC only had a slight 86-85 lead to enter the final frame.

Both teams exchanged baskets throughout the fourth quarter as neither squad created serious distance on the scoreboard. The Thunder created breathing room with a Lu Dort 3-pointer and Aaron Wiggins drive to the basket. Both scores gave OKC a 105-98 lead with less than seven minutes left.

The Hornets stung back with eight straight points to retake the lead at 106-105 with less than five minutes left in the contest. Charlotte continued its momentum as Grant Williams nailed a 3-pointer and scored in the post to grow its lead to 111-107 with 3:29 left in regulation.

Wiggins nailed a right-wing 3-pointer to put OKC back within one point with a little over three minutes left. After Williams converted a pair of free throws to put Charlotte up three points with 2:46 left, Wiggins converted the driving layup and Isaiah Joe nailed a timely deep 3-pointer for five quick points to give the Thunder the 115-113 edge with 1:28 left.

Vasilije Micic scooped in the open layup on the other end to tie it at 115 apiece with a little over one minute left. Joe cashed in on another tough 3-pointer to give OKC a 118-115 lead with 54 seconds left.

Miles Bridges missed a pair of 3-pointers on the next possession. The misses essentially sealed the final result with 18 seconds left as Charlotte failed to reap the benefits of extending the game at the free-throw line.

The Thunder shot 52% from the field and went 18-of-36 (50%) from 3. They went 13-of-17 from the free-throw line. They dished out 33 assists on 45 baskets. Seven Thunder players scored double-digit points — including their entire starting lineup and three 20-plus point scorers.

Wiggins scored a season-high 26 points and six steals. Josh Giddey had a 20-point triple-double. Chet Holmgren had 20 points and 10 rebounds. OKC’s bench contributed with 33 points.

“For guys to step up off the bench that don’t usually play that many minutes was big for us and was much needed,” Giddey said. “Everybody that stepped on the floor tonight had a lot of impact. Against a team like that, that don’t have a lot to play for in this part of the season, that’s a dangerous team.”

Meanwhile, the Hornets shot 54% from the field and went 17-of-40 (42.5%) from 3. They went 11-of-14 from the free-throw line. They had 29 assists on 45 baskets. All eight Hornets players who suited up scored double-digit points.

Lots of familiar names were on Charlotte’s sideline. Four former Thunder players checked in for them as they tried to collect a vengeful win over their old squad.

Micic had 17 points and 10 assists. Tre Mann had 18 points, six assists, five rebounds and four steals. Aleksej Pokusevski finished with 14 points and nine rebounds off the bench. Davis Bertans scored 12 points on 4-of-9 outside shooting.

Williams finished with 19 points and five assists. Miller was limited to 13 points on 13 shots after he scored 32 points for them in their last game. Bridges totaled 15 points and nine rebounds.

It was an ugly and awkward contest at times, but the Thunder got what they ultimately needed and that was a road win to snap three straight losses. They now return home to finish the season with a four-game homestand. OKC hopes to regain Gilgeous-Alexander and Williams soon after they’ve both missed the last four outings.

“There was a lot of learning this week from our standpoint and from the players’ standpoint,” Daigneault said. “This was our eighth road game in our last 10 without two days off in between any of them. It was a grind and the guys did a great job at hanging in there.”

Let’s look at Thunder player grades.

Story originally appeared on Thunder Wire