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Thunder reaches the playoffs

Lathan Pearce
Paycom Center during the first game of the First Round matchup between the Oklahoma City Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans.

Since 2019, Oklahoma City has been without postseason basketball, but that all changed after the Thunder secured the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference after winning its last five games of the regular season to finish with a record of 57-25. After two seasons being in the bottom five of the league and then one short play-in stint where the Thunder lost before playing a home game, leaving OKC without a taste of postseason basketball in the city.

 The last time the Thunder played in the playoffs was during the 2019-2020 season, when COVID-19 shut down the season, meaning the Thunder were forced to play its games in the “Orlando Bubble.” 

The Thunder had all the usual defining traits of a contending team during the regular season. The team was top-three in offensive rating, top-five in defensive rating and shot a league-leading 38.9% from three.It was the youngest team to ever win a conference in NBA history on its way to winning the Northwest Division for the first time since 2016. Despite many people’s preconceived notions of how the team would do this season, the Thunder did exactly what it was expected to do.

“When we do get back into the postseason, we want it to be an arrival and not an appearance,” Thunder Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti said.

Oklahoma City guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s play this season secured him a spot as a “Most Valuable Player” finalist, awarded to the three players with the most votes by the media. His play this season is a massive part of the Thunder’s 57-win season, averaging 30.1 points and 6.2 assists, all while adding two steals per game.

“There is not a night where I don’t feel like we have the best player on the floor,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said. ”We are a top-five defense [and] top-five offense. [Shai Gilgeous-Alexander] is a two-end player who contributes to both of these things. His consistency, his poise, his confidence has had an unbelievable contagious effect.”

Daigneault was honored by his peers as the Coaches Association’s Coach of the Year. His ability to lead a team as young as the Thunder to a top record in the league was a major factor in leading this win. His coworkers saw the impressiveness of this feat.

“He’s coaching the second-youngest team in the NBA to the one seed,” OKC star forward Jalen Williams said. “His biggest trait that serves us really well is being able to relate to us.”  

The Thunder had some push-back from media and fans alike due to their lack of experience in the playoffs, being seen as too young and too small to make noise past the beginning of the postseason. It’ll be up to the Thunder to flip this narrative around with their play, as the team looks to make a sustained run.

“It’s going to be fun,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Us being young, having a lot of legs. I think we can use our inexperience to help us, not knowing what it’s going to be so we’ll just play free. We have a lot to look forward to, we’re all excited.”

The Thunder faced the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round and made quick work of them, winning the series in a 4-0 sweep. They’ll play either the Dallas Mavericks or the Los Angeles Clippers.

Contact Lathan Pearce at [email protected]

About the Contributor
Lathan Pearce
Lathan Pearce, Staff Writer
Hello, my name is Lathan Pearce. I’m a senior, and this will be my third year on staff. My freshman year, I was in the Intro to Journalism class being taught by upperclassman team leaders, and now this year, I’m a team leader. I enjoy writing about many subjects, whether it’s movie/show reviews, features or sports. I’m a big Oklahoma City Thunder fan, and also support the Arkansas Razorbacks. Lastly, I have two cats, Eliza, who is full of energy, and Poku, who’s the laziest cat I’ve ever met.