Thunder’s Blazer blowout is a reminder of rock bottom — and how far OKC has climbed

Thunder’s Blazer blowout is a reminder of rock bottom — and how far OKC has climbed

The Thunder’s blowout of the Blazers Thursday was a laugher, but it led to some serious reflection about one of the most memorable losses in franchise history.

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

| Jan 12, 2024, 6:12am CST

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

Jan 12, 2024, 6:12am CST

OKLAHOMA CITY — Mark Daigneault never thought of chasing down history. 

NBA coaches typically don’t put much stake in the margin of victory, in the size of an in-game lead, and the Thunder’s head man probably wasn’t doing the math as OKC put to bed a 139-77 rout of the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday at Paycom Center. 

But even if he’d thought about it, he wouldn’t have pursued the NBA-record 73-point margin he was on the receiving end of three years ago. 

“That’s our record,” Daigneault said. “We weren’t chasing that.”

It was hard not to think Thursday about Memphis’ 152-79 win on Dec. 2, 2021. 

Daigneault coached in that game, but only two Thunder players — Lu Dort and Tre Mann — got in that one and saw the court Thursday against Portland. 

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was on that 2021 team but sat out the Grizzlies game; Aleksej Pokusevski played against the Grizz then but didn’t log time against the Blazers. 

But roster rollover is only part of the story of how far the Thunder has come since that night. 

At 26-11, OKC ended Thursday tied atop the Western Conference standings. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index projects it to win 56 games this season and gives it effectively a 100% chance of reaching the playoffs, a destination the franchise hasn’t reached since the 2020 NBA bubble. 

The road here didn’t start with that loss to Memphis. But that 73-point margin is emblematic of how much territory the Thunder has covered in two seasons. 

“That was an important game for us,” Daigneault said of the Grizzlies loss. “I thought we learned a lot of lessons in that game. You learn that it’s one game. It’s a true 0-0 thing when you come out of that thing. You learn that the sun comes up the next day; you have practice the next day.” 

You “taste your own blood” in a game like that, Daigneault, and then you go back to work. 

Thursday was a reminder of how the work is paying off. 

Though the Thunder didn’t eclipse that 73-point margin, there still were jaw-dropping numbers, notes and anecdotes. Among them:

  • The margin was an Oklahoma City record, tied for the fifth-largest margin of victory in NBA history. 
  • The Thunder’s 62-point lead through three quarters set an NBA record. (If you’re curious, Memphis led the Thunder by 51 in the 2021 game.)
  • Late in the third quarter, a Mann 3-pointer put OKC in front 108-54, doubling the Blazers’ output. OKC was more than doubling up Portland at the end of the third quarter. 
  • The Thunder had 75 points at halftime, meaning it could have stopped scoring then and the Blazers would have won the game by two points. 
  • On Nov. 9, the Thunder won 134-91 at Portland, leading in that game by as many as 47 points in the fourth quarter. OKC surpassed that margin Thursday before the midway point of the third quarter and led by 56 or more points the entire fourth. 
  • Gilgeous-Alexander scored 31 points in 21 minutes; Josh Giddey had a triple-double — 13 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists — in 22 minutes. All five Thunder starters scored in double figures and none played more than Giddey’s 22 minutes. 
  • Oklahoma City outscored Portland by 56 points when Blazers rookie point guard Scoot Henderson was on the court. According to Stathead.com, that’s tied for the second-worst in-game plus/minus since the NBA began recording the stat. Cleveland’s Manny Harris was -57 in a game against the Lakers in January 2011. Former Thunder Jeremiah Robinson-Earl was -56 in that 2021 loss to the Grizzlies. 
  • Earlier this season, the Thunder withstood the longest scoring run in recorded NBA history when the Mavericks reeled off 30 points in a row. The Blazers (10-27) could have doubled that run and lost the game by two. 

It was a laugher, but Gilgeous-Alexander didn’t take much joy in the margin. 

He remembers being on the other side of it. 

Though he didn’t play in that 2021 game, he called it “embarrassing,” and said he felt bad that he wasn’t on the court with his teammates. He’s forgotten most of the details about the game, but he remembers the aftermath. 

 “After that game, we addressed it,” he said. “And we just we just made a promise to ourselves to never feel that feeling again. I think it’s been a little bit of our fuel to get to where we are today.”

Today the Thunder is one of the NBA’s best teams. Buoyed by the Blazer blowout, OKC is outscoring opponents by 9.1 points per 100 possessions. Only Boston (+9.2) has a better net rating. 

And probably it would have gotten here even without the Beale Street beatdown it took back in 2021. 

But it’s clear that rock-bottom blowout played at least a symbolic part in the Thunder’s climb up the mountain. 

“I thought it built some good fortitude in the team and some good scars to the point where now it’s kind of a badge of honor,” Daigneault said. “We don’t talk about it, but we endured, obviously, a lot of struggle, and that brings integrity to future experiences. And we’re probably better not only with that game, but we’re probably better because of the struggles we’ve endured. And we’ll endure more struggles, and we’ll be better because of those if we handle them the same way.”

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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.

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