Throwback Thunder crowd helps lift OKC to overtime win over Warriors

Throwback Thunder crowd helps lift OKC to overtime win over Warriors

The new-look Thunder and familiar old Warriors staged a thriller Friday night that recalled the heyday of Thunder games in a rowdy home environment.

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

| Dec 9, 2023, 7:02am CST

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

Dec 9, 2023, 7:02am CST

OKLAHOMA CITY — Chet Holmgren remembers the sea of t-shirts. 

The Thunder’s 21-year-old center remembers first tuning into an OKC game when he was just a kid, for the 2012 NBA Finals against Miami. He recalls seeing “everybody in white t shirts and the place erupting.”

In recent years, the place calmed down. 

But on Friday, as Holmgren and the Thunder were rallying past the Warriors for a 138-136 overtime win, Paycom Center looked and sounded a lot like the old days when it was the Ford Center or Chesapeake Energy Arena. 

Holmgren got to hear it erupt — and share that energy in celebration with his teammates — after his bucket and foul early in the overtime threatened to make the place come unhinged. 

It was pandemonium, a reminder of this city’s basketball glory days. And maybe the latest indicator that they’re on their way back. 

“It’s been like that all year, I feel like for the most part,” forward Jalen Williams said. “It’s gradually getting louder and louder. So credit to the fans. I love playing here. It’s fun.”

It hasn’t been louder — or more fun — this season than it was Friday night, and all the madness happened against a fitting foe. 

So many of the Warriors’ principle players — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green — played the villains who ended the last title-contending iteration of the Thunder. 

This Thunder team isn’t ready to cut nets yet, it’s in the early stages of something promising. And it looks to be ahead of schedule. 

The announcement of its arrival this season includes a 14-7 start and three wins in four games against the Warriors (10-12), two each at home and on the road. 

The Thunder won the last of the regular-season meetings Friday with what coach Mark Daigneault called “great poise” and “great presence.” 

OKC struggled to make 3-pointers (5 for 29) and grab rebounds (the Warriors had a staggering 60-39 edge on the boards). It watched Curry and Thompson combine to shoot a combined 10 for 21 from long range. 

So it leaned on an attacking style at both ends, scoring 78 points in the paint and — with the help of a slew of Warriors miscues — forcing 29 turnovers and turning those into 35 points. 

Golden State “controlled that whole game, on the road,” coach Steve Kerr said. 

But the Thunder — which Kerr called “one of the best teams in the league” — found a way to win. 

It did it on the strength of big games from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (38 points, five steals), Williams (28 points, five rebounds) and Holmgren (21 points, seven rebounds, three blocks). 

It did it with “great effort,” Daigneault said, and with the fortitude to make the most of every important Warriors mistake. 

And the energy in the building didn’t hurt. 

Gilgeous-Alexander remembers what it was like in this building when he was a rookie on the Clippers, before the Thunder traded Russell Westbrook and Paul George to begin a rebuild that brought Gilgeous-Alexander here. 

The atmosphere was “insane” both times the Clippers visited, he said. 

And Friday night?

“Exact same way,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Nuts.”

The Thunder’s win offered plenty of chances for the fans to lose their minds. 

There was a third quarter in which Gilgeous-Alexander scored 12 points and a fourth when Williams poured in 13. There was the way Lu Dort blanketed Curry’s final shot in regulation, forcing a misfired 3-pointer that sent the game into overtime tied 118-118. 

There were the free throws that set up the Dorture Chamber’s heroics, three of them from Holmgren with 7.7 seconds remaining after Green fouled him on a 3-point attempt. 

Holmgren had a timeout to think about them and — in contrast to a late one he remembers missing as a freshman at Gonzaga — he spent that time focused less on the free throws he had to make than on what Daigneault was telling the team. 

Then he drilled all three of them. 

It was a clutch moment vastly different than — but still reminiscent of — the 3-pointer Holmgren made to force overtime at Golden State last month. 

“That’s who (Holmgren) is,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “He’s gutsy.” 

It took his guts and Gilgeous-Alexnder’s aggressiveness and Williams’ will and a lot more to beat the Warriors on Friday. 

And the energy in the building didn’t hurt. 

It might never have been higher — nor the volume louder — than early in overtime, when Holmgren corralled the rebound of an Isaiah Joe miss from 3, laid the ball over the rim and drew a foul, a play that energized his teammates and pumped up Paycom. 

Even the usually staid Gilgeous-Alexander ran to Holmgren and hit him in the chest. 

“Shai don’t ever yell,” Williams said. “So if he’s yelling, I’m gonna start screaming for sure. Same thing with Chet. So that was fun. That was cool.”

And it was familiar. 

It felt like old times, a playoff vibe against familiar faces. 

Thunder fans aren’t quite filling the building this season. OKC is drawing 17,069 fans per game on average, 93.8% of Paycom Center’s capacity. 

But that’s up from 85.3% last season and 81.7% the season before, numbers low enough that one preseason question about this Thunder team was whether it had any chance to bring back the old atmosphere

Friday night was the latest answer, a rocking, rollicking, resounding yes. It’s been trending that way, but Loud City hasn’t been louder this season than it was for the Warriors. 

“They were juiced tonight,” Daigneault said of the OKC fans. “They’ve had that going a couple times. I remember when I first got here, this was some home court. And we’re starting to touch that on some nights, and tonight was one of those nights. They were great.”

Share with your crowd
Brett Dawson, the Thunder beat writer at Sellout Crowd, has covered basketball for more than 20 seasons at the pro and college levels. He previously worked the Thunder beat at The Oklahoman and The Athletic and also has covered the New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers and L.A. Clippers. He’s covered college programs at Louisville, Illinois and Kentucky, his alma mater. He taught sports journalism for a year at the prestigious Missouri School of Journalism. You can reach him at [email protected] or find him sipping a stout or an IPA at one of Oklahoma City’s better breweries.

The latest from Sellout Crowd

  • Feb 25, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) smiles after a play during the third quarter against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    ESPN’s Tim MacMahon on the Thunder’s past, present and future | Heard Thundering with Brett Dawson

  • Oklahoma's Jayda Coleman (24) celebrates a hit in the fifth inning during the NCAA Norman Super Regional softball game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners and the Clemson Tigers at Marita Hynes Field in Norman, Okla., Friday, May, 26, 2023.

    There may be good news for OU’s softball challengers like Texas and OSU | The Jenni Carlson Show

  • Bob Kendrick, center, stands with the Millwood High School baseball team earlier this week after sharing history about the Negro Leagues with the entire student body. He is the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. (Jenni Carlson/Sellout Crowd)

    Why Negro Leagues history provides lessons of hope and possibility

  • For Marita Hynes, OU’s Love’s Field is the latest sign of softball’s national rise

  • Brandel Chamblee on ‘What the hell is happening to the game of golf’ | The Scott Verplank Show

The latest from Sellout Crowd

  • Feb 25, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) smiles after a play during the third quarter against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    ESPN’s Tim MacMahon on the Thunder’s past, present and future | Heard Thundering with Brett Dawson

  • Oklahoma's Jayda Coleman (24) celebrates a hit in the fifth inning during the NCAA Norman Super Regional softball game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners and the Clemson Tigers at Marita Hynes Field in Norman, Okla., Friday, May, 26, 2023.

    There may be good news for OU’s softball challengers like Texas and OSU | The Jenni Carlson Show

  • Bob Kendrick, center, stands with the Millwood High School baseball team earlier this week after sharing history about the Negro Leagues with the entire student body. He is the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. (Jenni Carlson/Sellout Crowd)

    Why Negro Leagues history provides lessons of hope and possibility

  • For Marita Hynes, OU’s Love’s Field is the latest sign of softball’s national rise

  • Brandel Chamblee on ‘What the hell is happening to the game of golf’ | The Scott Verplank Show