The Oklahoma City Thunder made history on Thursday night.
There have been about 50,000 NBA games played since the association formed in 1949. Yet in all those games, no team has ever been handed a bigger loss than OKC’s 152-79 massacre in Memphis. I’ll save you the math: that’s a 73 point plastering.
So how did this already infamous Thunder thumping happen? Let’s break down the beat-down.
- This is a rebuild. First things first, this OKC squad is already built with eyes on the future. It’s purposely the youngest roster in the NBA. The aim is to develop and draft young talent. So losses will come. But most of those Ls are competitive because the Thunder have a couple ringers most nights… but not on Thursday.
- No Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Josh Giddey. OKC’s two best players didn’t play (all due respect to Luguentz Dort). This is simple stuff. The NBA is a star driven league and SGA and Giddey are the Thunder’s two up and coming stars. The Warriors are woeful without Steph Curry, the Bucks are bad without Giannis and the Thunder were historically heinous without SGA and Giddey.
- No Kenrich Williams or Derrick Favors. Kenny Hustle is a plus minus boxscore superstar and has a tremendous impact every time he’s on the floor. Favors is OKC’s only physical, veteran big. Both are high IQ players who help steady a ship being sailed by youngsters. Their absence was massive.
- Rookies, G Leaguers and 3rd Stringers, oh my! So with their two best players and four of their six best players out, who was left? Lu Dort, who did an admirable job scoring 15 efficient points in only 25 minutes. Mike Muscala, who scored 12 points in only 17 minutes off the bench. But after those two, the talent level and experience drops off significantly. Rookie Tre Mann got his second career start along with the struggling Darius Bazley, Ty Jerome in his first start of the season and 2nd round rookie Jeremiah Robinson-Earl rounded out the starting five. Two way player Paul Watson played 32 minutes, second most on the team. Seldom-seen Gabriel Deck, Isaiah Roby and the Poku Experience rounded out the rotation. A rebuilding team’s backups and their backups’ backups playing heavy minutes is not a recipe for success.
- Second night of a road back-to-back. OKC played a tough, nail biter at home 24 hours prior, probably hung out with Drake, hopped a plane to Memphis, landed in the middle of the night, slept for a few hours and was back at shootaround by noon. Those tired legs especially showed late in the game.
- 4th Quarter Snowball. Make no mistake, OKC put up a dud from the first frame. But heading into the final 12 minutes, it was just your typical, run of the mill 50-point deficit. Because the game was so wildly out of control, the Thunder decided to rest Dort and Bazley, their two best defenders. And the players who were left were exhausted from playing the night before, getting lit with Drake and his two new Oklahoma parents and flying to Graceland. The Grizz outscored the Thunder by 22 in the final frame.
- Golden State Grizzlies. We’ve covered why the Thunder struggled so much, but historic losses require a perfect storm of one team having their worst game while the other team can’t miss. And Memphis was happy to oblige. Even without Ja Morant, the Grizz shot a blistering 62.5% from the floor and hit a ridiculous 19 out of 36 attempts from beyond the arc. This wasn’t your father’s Grit N Grind Grizz, the Thunder had to deal with the Memphis Warriors.
“It’s important to note this isn’t who we have been all season,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said after the game.
He’s right. OKC has been competitive in most games. And as noted above, there are more than a handful of legitimate reasons that culminated in a perfect, tragic Thunder storm. But they fall on deaf ears because talking heads and social media like hot takes more than context.
Ultimately, this game will only count as one loss in the standings. And the Thunder are in the business of collecting losses this season with visions of Paolo Banchero or Chet Holmgren playing alongside SGA, Josh Giddey and Lu Dort dancing in their heads.
Flush the film on this one, move on, and cross your foam fingers that Shai and Josh are ready to go on Monday night vs the, oh wait, nevermind, it’s just the Pistons.