OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder looked headed for its fifth consecutive loss to start the season.
The Thunder trailed the Los Angeles Lakers 41-19 after the first quarter, a team that didn’t have Lebron James, and that lead grew as large as 26 points in the second quarter.
But big shots and great defense in the second half pushed the Thunder over the Lakers, 123-115, at the Paycom Center on Wednesday night.
“It’s a 48 minute game. We’re a young team exploring all the lessons right now, and one of those lessons is the length of the game,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “You can lay an egg in the first quarter, hang in there, put the solutions together. and that’s what really resonated tonight.”
The comeback started in the third quarter.
The Thunder scored 41 points in the quarter while limiting the Lakers to 23 of their own, and the team slowly started to trim away the lead. But they did it behind Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who had 17 points in the quarter.
Gilgeous-Alexander gave the team its first lead of the game on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer over Lakers’ guard Russell Westbrook to end the quarter, which banked in off the backboard.
The shot gave the team a 97-95 lead that they never relented.
“I wanted to let the game come to me in the third quarter, not force it,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “A couple of possessions the shot clock went down, I had to go make a play and I made a few of them. I felt good, I felt hot and I just tried to keep it going.”
But it wasn’t just Gilgeous-Alexander.
Josh Giddey, the Thunder’s sixth-overall pick in the 2021 draft, showcased his potential against the Lakers. He recorded his first NBA double-double, finishing with 18 points, two rebounds and 10 assists, which led the team. He also made 7 of his 13 shots and made two 3-pointers.
With the Lakers attempting a late rally in the fourth quarter, Giddey assisted Derrick Favors on a layup that gave the team a three-point lead with 50 seconds to go.
“He was great,” Daigneault said. “He had a great floor game tonight. He was kind of a catalyst of our ball movement, which is something that we’ve challenged him to do. When the ball is in your hands, get the blender going for us and I thought he did that for us.
“He was outstanding.”
Despite the Lakers’ late rally, which cut a an eight-point lead to one, the Thunder made enough plays down the stretch to notch their first win of the season. The team outscored the Lakers 104-74 after that disastrous first quarter.
The Thunder also got a great performance from Darius Bazley, who finished with 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting and kept the team in it early. But it was their backcourt, Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey, who made critical plays in the second half to secure the comeback.
Daigneault singled out Gilgeous-Alexander’s ability to play unselfishly that helped the team win.
“He’s a guy that — like I’ve said before — his awareness and investment in the team and in his teammates is pretty special for a really ambitious young player,” Daigneault said. “He’s just got an unbelievable balance between his own ambition and his willingness to plug into the team, and it’s a contagious effect. I thought that was on display tonight.”