This year’s Thunder team has been full of pleasant surprises. Maybe those surprises came from the lack of expectations coming into the season? Could it be the new look three-guard lineup? Or maybe Billy Donovan coaching his butt off?
Regardless, these and other fun elements factored in the plays you are about to relive. So sit back, relax, and take a look at the best of the 2019-20 Thunder season in rewind.
5. SGA’s coming out party
Being a Thunder fan, you are accustomed to triple-doubles by now. Russell Westbrook was transcendent when he dawned the Thunder blue, to the point of making this statistic routine.
When he left, many thought the triple-doubles were gone with him. Yet, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had something to say about that. On a Monday night in January SGA set out to make history, becoming the youngest player ever to record a 20/20/10 game.
He scored in his usual combination of smooth drives to the basket, change-of-pace dribbles that keep the defenders on their toes, a flurry of mid-range jumpers, and quick-trigger threes. Oh, and he still managed to dish out 10 assists and grab 20 boards.
Gilgeous-Alexander put the world on notice. The scary part? He’s just getting started.
4. Houston who?1In my best Snoop Dog voice[/footnote]
Now, we all know that team down in Houston. They pilfered Harden from us, and then seven years later, they got the Brodie too. Yet, these factors are what made the rivalry this season all the more sweeter.
At the time of their January 20 meeting the Thunder held a 1-1 record in the season series against the Rockets. For a team not in their division, this third meeting was for all the marbles.
And man, beating Houston in Houston was worth the wait.
The Thunder trailed most of the way, even though Chris Paul had 27 points in the first half. Houston built a 15-point cushion, but down the stretch, the Thunder put together a 13-point run to cut the lead to two.
Then the Thunder’s six-point flurry closed Houston out. The statement moment was an emphatic dunk by SGA late in the fourth quarter to put Houston to bed.
3. The viral ball movement in Minnesota
This moment wasn’t a game, but more of a glimpse into what this Thunder team is capable of.
When things are clicking for the Thunder, you have unique moments of beautiful basketball. It’s a nice change of pace from the isolation heavy, one-on-one game fans were used to seeing for years.
Thunder fans have grown up watching Kevin Durant score over everyone, and Westbrook get to the rim on a whim. But this season was typified by a more team-centric approach. This play exemplifies that, with four Thunder players touching the ball in one pretty possession.
2. The comeback kids, coming back
It would be a crime if OKC’s comeback victories weren’t on this list.
Over the course of the season, this Thunder team embodied the nickname “The Comeback Kids” with an ability to never give up on a game. It’s funny that the comeback kids are led by the old man on the block wearing number three: the ultra-competitive 34-year old point guard, Chris Paul. His fiery nature helped lead the Thunder out of multiple late-game deficits, one of which included him telling on a Timberwolves player for not having their jersey tucked in.
Another came in the form of a comeback against the Chicago Bulls I wrote about in our Flashbulb series. He took over in the fourth quarter, giving the Thunder a new life, and showing the world just what he is still capable of.
Still, my personal favorite comeback victory would come in the form of a Chicago game late in February. That game was all-encompassing of everything the Thunder had been about all season: toughness, resilience, dedication, and teamwork.
You aren’t sure what to expect each night the Thunder play, but you do know you are always going to get maximum effort from the comeback kids.
The most compelling comeback came in the form of OKC’s last game before the pandemic hit. They trailed Boston by 15 with two minutes left in the second quarter. And through tough team defense and veteran leadership from the always dependable CP3, they came back to beat the surging Celtics.
These are just a few of the many comeback wins the Thunder mounted during the season. All of this is to say, Chris Paul has been the most clutch player in the NBA this year, and it’s because he never gives up on a game, even when he has an excuse to.
1. Westbrook’s return to The Peak
There was no other moment more compelling than Westbrooks return to Oklahoma on January 9, 2020.
The emotions that filled the arena were evident through the telecast. Westbrook had grown up in our collective eye. He had become one of us. His departure wasn’t hated, instead understood. Through parting ways, Westbrook gave the Thunder something that was desperately needed on both sides–a fresh start.
His return, instead of vitriol, was filled with celebration. And it was a celebration of 11-years together.
It was a thank you to Westbrook for his part in building something from the ground up. And never quitting on it.