OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — As the Oklahoma City Thunder (12-6) dealt with a depleted guard rotation, they continued their winning ways, defeating the Charlotte Hornets (9-9) 109-104.
Billy Donovan opted to go with Dennis Schröder for the injured Terrance Ferguson. The Thunder’s versatile back-up point guard has shown no loss of impact despite his roller coaster start to the year in terms of his role — starter or sixth man.
“He’s a basketball player, nothing phases him,” Donovan said of Schröder. “Everyone wants to start in this league but I give him a lot of credit doing the things we are asking him to do.”
After scoring 32 points in the road win vs Golden State, Schröder dropped 23 points on 9-of-19 shooting, including 4-of-8 from three. This is all light years better than his 3-of-17, 0-for-6 from three performance Monday night in Sacramento.
“I’m a team player,” Schröder said in the locker room. “Nothing’s guaranteed to me so I just have to go out and play like I know I can.”
The Thunder fouled and played sloppy through most of the first half. After sending the Hornets to the line 12 times in the first 15 minutes of play, Oklahoma City’s early lead changed to a nine-point deficit.
“We fouled way too much in the first half,” Donovan said. “We played good defense for most of the possession and would waste it with a foul.”
Russell Westbrook played one of his more efficient games of the young season. His play during the Hornets’ lead helped settle down a Thunder team that was forced to play deep into the bench.
That deep bench revealed another gem Oklahoma City could utilize down the road, Deonte Burton.
The rookie out of Iowa State scored 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting. Those 11 points made up the large portion of the Thunder’s 13 bench points, Nerlens Noel had the other two points.
Oklahoma City shot 11-of-33 from the three point line and held Charlotte to just 6-of-31. That is where Donovan believed the game was won.
“I thought the difference was the performance from deep,” Donovan said. “We defended the perimeter well and hit enough threes to keep the distance.”
Considering the Hornets outscored the Thunder 60-48 in the paint and scored 32 points off the bench, it’s amazing Oklahoma City won the game.
The Thunder held a one-point lead with under 20 seconds to go in the game. Westbrook nailed four free throws late to seal the victory.
With the win, Oklahoma City has won 12 of their last 14 games and now have a share of first place in the Western Conference. They play tomorrow night at Chesapeake Energy Arena against the Denver Nuggets.