The Oklahoma City Thunder suffered their fifth straight defeat at the hands of the middling Cleveland Cavaliers Thursday night, falling 129-102 in the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
This is no ordinary backslide, however, as the Thunder have been without the services of their entire opening night starting five.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is nursing his foot back to health, as he suffers from Plantar Fasciitis, Lugeuntz Dort remains in concussion protocol, Darius Bazley is ailing from a shoulder contusion, Al Horford has been shut down for the rest of the year and George Hill was traded to Philadelphia before the trade deadline, meaning OKC has been playing with both hands tied behind their back for the last few weeks.
But all the missing pieces have afforded the young Oklahoma City role players an opportunity to shine, as a couple of players showed out for Mark Daigneault despite the loss to the Cavaliers.
Game Ball: Ty Jerome
On Wednesday night, Ty Jerome had an outing to forget against the Charlotte Hornets. Shooting 0-for-6 from the floor and scoring only one point, Jerome also turned the ball over four times in his 20 minutes against the Hornets.
Thursday night, he responded in a big way.
Hurting the Cavaliers from beyond the 3-point arc, Jerome torched Cleveland with a 9-for-16 shooting performance, scoring a career high 23 points.
“I just try to stay never too high, never too low. As even keel as possible and just keep playing my game every night,” Jerome said in the post-game Zoom press conference. “Whether it’s a good performance or a bad performance, it’s about watching film and almost being robotic in your approach to getting better.”
Another aspect of mental preparation that has helped Jerome prepare to deal with the highs and lows of a season is medication, he said.
“I think I really started to lock into that in the last year of college,” he said. “I started meditating and staying in the moment, realizing that the present moment is all you have.”
Jerome will hope to keep his hot hand rolling on Saturday night when the Thunder host the Philadelphia 76ers— especially if the Thunder are shorthanded once again.
Game Ball: Kenrich Williams
Kenrich Williams was a focal point of the Thunder offense, again filling in as a starter.
Posting 12 points on an efficient 5-of-9 shooting, Williams also hit a pair of triples as he tried to fire Oklahoma City back into the game late after a dismal start to the third quarter.
As always, Williams impacts the game far beyond his scoring ability. The former TCU man led OKC with nine assists while also swiping away two steals from the Cavaliers.
The embodiment of hard work and hustle on the floor, Williams has potentially carved out a role for himself next year and beyond as the spark plug for the Thunder in the wake of Hamidou Diallo getting dealt to the Detroit Pistons.
The Thunder will close out their four game home stand on Saturday night. The opening tip between OKC and the 76ers is scheduled for 8 p.m. from the Chesapeake Energy Arena.