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In homecoming, Dort, Gilgeous-Alexander present glimpse of higher future for Thunder

TORONTO — The Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t an excellent group.

Coming into Wednesday ranked dead-last in offensive ranking and third-last internet ranking with a 7-16 report, it could even be protected to say that the Thunder are, in reality, a really poor NBA group.

Not that you simply’d realize it primarily based on how they carried out Wednesday night time.

And, particularly talking, the efficiency of their two star guards, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort, who additionally simply so occur to be Canadian.

Of their homecoming, Gilgeous-Alexander and Dort mixed for 48 factors on 14-of-35 capturing because the Thunder managed to carry onto a 110-109 victory over the Raptors on Wednesday.

And although it got here right down to a last tip-in from Raptors ahead Justin Champagnie that was inevitably dominated to not rely for the Thunder to seal their victory, the poise that the 2 Canucks confirmed a glimpse of what might be a brighter future for a Thunder group that not solely is dangerous statistically, however is designed to be dangerous. Oklahoma Metropolis is trying to proceed constructing by way of the draft and, maybe, make a deal centred round an abundance of draft capital (18 future first-round picks and 16 second-round picks).

However perhaps that future the Thunder are constructing in the direction of is a little bit nearer than they, maybe initially thought.

After getting embarrassed by the Memphis Grizzlies in record-setting trend final Thursday, the Thunder have responded with two consecutive wins and have Gilgeous-Alexander, largely, to thank for that.

Gilgeous-Alexander went off for 30 factors and 13 assists on Monday in a victory in opposition to the Detroit Pistons, after which adopted that up with the 26-point, nine-dime efficiency Wednesday in opposition to the Raptors — exploding within the second half with 18 factors and 10 free throws made in as many makes an attempt.

It was Gilgeous-Alexander who helped gasoline a 25-3 Thunder run to shut the third quarter that proved to be the most important deciding issue within the recreation. He additionally made the play that gave the Thunder the win by driving into the center of the Raptors’ defence, drawing 4 defenders and kicking out to a wide-open Mike Muscala, who drilled it with 9.4 seconds left to play.

“Within the fourth quarter, I observed they went to a box-and-one,” mentioned Gilgeous-Alexander after the sport. “So, I knew that after I received by my man there can be 4 guys ready for me and I simply needed to try to draw as many guys as I may in. Pump pretend, had a pair guys on me, then Mike was open.”

In fact, Gilgeous-Alexander’s second-half heroics wouldn’t have been doable had it not been for Dort’s first-half play.

The Thunder trailed by 10, 64-54, on the half, however it could’ve been much more had it not been for the 14 factors (of the 22 he scored for the sport) he poured in that first half.

In simply his third season as an undrafted free agent seemed over due to thought-of offensive limitations, Dort has change into a key offensive participant for this Thunder group, and the assertive drives to the ring and easy-looking threes he was hitting within the first half of Wednesday’s recreation had been good proof of the type of participant he’s change into.

“I feel beginning that off the best way he did — being undrafted — was good early adversity for him that basically tempered his expectations and despatched an early sign that he’s gonna have earn all the things he will get, and he has earned all the things he’s gotten day after day since he’s been right here,” mentioned Thunder coach Mark Daigneault earlier than the sport of Dort.

Much more spectacular, is that this offensive enchancment in Dort’s recreation hasn’t come on the expense of his famous and rightfully vaunted defensive capability.

“I don’t assume his defence has dropped off and, along with his offence choosing up, he simply brings it on each ends of the ground,” mentioned Daignealt. “Defensively, he’s change into a luxurious for us. There’s numerous perimeter gamers within the league that may hold you up at night time and we’ve received a man that’s an elite matchup in opposition to these guys. And that’s to not say that he shuts them down, however he makes them earn all the things and he’s robust to play in opposition to as a result of he simply retains coming and he’s additionally received nice physicality and he’s a fantastic athlete.”

Dort’s defence was instrumental within the Thunder’s victory Wednesday, as he hounded Raptors guard Fred VanVleet all night time, holding VanVleet to only 6-of-20 capturing from the ground, regardless of VanVleet getting sizzling late to make the sport extra attention-grabbing down the stretch.

“He is a troublesome matchup,” mentioned Dort of VanVleet. “He can do quite a bit and he didn’t actually have it going within the first half and, you realize, he simply stepped up on the finish and took some huge photographs and his group wanted him and felt like he did good simply taking robust photographs and making them.”

Luckily for Dort and the Thunder, nonetheless, these huge photographs of VanVleet proved to return too late. Though given the additional enhance he and Gilgeous-Alexander received from enjoying at dwelling once more, it might not have mattered even when VanVleet had it going earlier.

“It’s an thrilling feeling, realizing all my household and buddies are within the stands,” mentioned Hamilton native Gilgeous-Alexander of enjoying again dwelling once more. “It’s a court docket I grew up watching. It’s all the time enjoyable.”

Added the Montreal native Dort: “As a child simply, you realize, all of the Canadians desires are to play right here on this area and it was simply nice to have lots of people right here from Montreal, you realize, simply right here supporting me and even some individuals I do not even know that was yelling my title within the crowd and stuff like that, so it simply felt nice. And, you realize, it is all the time good to be again within the nation.”

And, higher but for Dort, he’s wanting ahead to probably representing the nation once more, as nicely.

“I can be taking part within the subsequent Workforce Canada,” mentioned Dort on Tuesday when requested about participation with the nationwide group. “I’ll be there with them making an attempt to vie for a spot and I really feel like we could have a fantastic group.”

For now, although, the group Dort, and Gilgeous-Alexander, is enjoying for are the Thunder who aren’t fairly so nice a group but.

But it surely’s constructing, and can proceed to constructed with a lot of assist from the group’s two Northern Lights.

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