The Thunder don't stop
Victory over league-leading Celtics places Oklahoma City in rare air
The mayor himself, David Holt, could not help himself.
Again, Oklahoma City took on one of those teams even the most optimistic fan, despite the Thunder being on their home floor and despite entering the contest an amazing 22-9, trailing only Minnesota in the Western Conference in the midst of a season nobody dared predict … couldn’t say, “Yeah, count it, put another win in the books.”
They couldn’t because this was the Boston Celtics.
The Celtics, who were coming off six straight wins and 12 of 13. The Celtics, who were looking up at nobody, entering Paycom Center 26-6, which was not just the best record in the Eastern Conference but in the whole NBA, too, counting two more wins and two fewer losses than the West leading Timberwolves.
Yet, after OKC pulled it off, upending Boston 127-123, Holt just had to speak, via X, which most people still call Twitter.
OKC 127, Boston 123
OKC 119, Denver 93
OKC 129, Minnesota 106
OKC 124, LA Clippers 115
You want the best, you have to beat the best. And Oklahoma City is the best team in the NBA.
Don’t make late spring travel plans, OKC.
And Thunder Up!!!
Perhaps we shouldn’t quite go there.
The best team in the league, really?
Also, it’s awfully hard to argue.
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The Thunder have won 9 of 11 and each of the four victories Holt mentioned have come during the stretch.
We just hit the Celtics’ accolades. The Nuggets, if you’ve forgotten, are the reigning NBA champions, and the final score Holt mentioned is not even OKC’s lone victory over the defending champs, nor even the only one in Denver.
Last Friday was the game Holt mentioned. Thirteen days earlier, the Thunder clipped the Nuggets 118-117.
It was the day after Christmas OKC knocked off Minnesota, interrupting an 11-of-13 T-Wolves’ run. And it was two games prior the Thunder knocked off the Clippers, who entered having won their last nine and who, even now, trail only three teams in the West: Minnesota, OKC, Denver.
The Thunder (23-9) just keep delivering.
Tonight, they’re in Atlanta (13-19).
It’s a tough turnaround.
It’s a back-to-back in two different time zones, the Thunder’s sixth game in nine days and it’s the opening salvo of a four-game road trip that also includes tilts at Brooklyn (15-19), Washington (6-26) and Miami (19-14).
Though OKC may be loathe to load manage and should be applauded if they don’t, if they ever wanted to, tonight might be the night to get it all done at once and rest not only Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but second-year rookie phenom Chet Holmgren and Jalen Williams, too.
They’re OKC’s three most indispensable players, but one strategy to win three of four on the swing might be to have them entirely fresh for the last three.
Plus, it’s not like Atlanta surely beats OKC tonight even if the Thunder arrive shorthanded.
The Hawks can score but they can’t defend, which is pretty much who they’ve been since Trae Young arrived.
As mentioned recently in this space, for Thunder fans, these are heady times.
Still, Tuesday was different.
You may not know but a year ago the Thunder were dead last in attendance at 15,534 fans per game. Two years ago, coming out of COVID, they were 28th at 14,877.
The Chris Paul season, before COVID arrived — 2019-2020 — OKC ranked 14th at 18,203, which happens to be Paycom’s capacity and the same number the Thunder averaged the eight seasons prior to that season, too, selling out hundreds and hundreds of consecutive games.
They’re ascending again, averaging 17,369 this season.
Tuesday, finally, they were back at capacity.
It was more than that, too.
The last four or so minutes were played as the whole crowd stood.
The old volume was back.
Though OKC led Boston 98-86 entering the fourth quarter and 110-92 until Derrick White nailed a 3-pointer with 6:26 remaining, the final minutes were suddenly tight, the Celtics closing within a bucket, 121-119, after another White 3-pointer with 41 seconds remaining.
But Williams followed with a short jumper and Josh Giddey and Gilgeous-Alexander made their free throws at the end and the Thunder claimed another victory over another contender and the mayor cut loose with his tweet.
Feel free to scroll up and read it again.
Folks began the season wondering if they might win more then they lose.
Then they wondered if they might, somehow, finish top six in the West and avoid the postseason play-in round.
We’re way past that now.
Here’s a stat or two.
To date, the Thunder have played the league’s 11th toughest schedule, claims Power Rankings Guru. ESPN disagrees, claiming OKC’s played the fourth most grueling slate.
Tankathon measures the opposite and it says only Chicago, Orlando, Cleveland, Minnesota and Boston have it easier going forward than the Thunder,
They keep piling wins.
All signs point toward there being many more where that came from.