After the poke-away, Schröder snapped up the ball but immediately had to spin to avoid Blazers forward Jaylen Hoard. Two more dribbles later in the open floor, Schröder scooped an underhanded pass to Chris Paul, who was streaking up the left sideline. Paul received the rock, put his head down with one hard dribble towards the rim, then skipped up into the air, tossing the ball up as high as the top of the backboard.
“I got no intentions on finishing on the fast break,” Paul chuckled after the game on Fox Sports Oklahoma.
“(Chris) is the only one who is going to throw it that high with that confidence,” said Noel.
Diagonally across the court from Paul stood Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hamidou Diallo, anxiously awaiting their chance to check into the game. The Thunder was in the midst of what ended up being an extended 28-12 run, snapping the sinews off a tenuous 77-73 third quarter lead and turning it into an unencumbered 105-85 advantage in the final frame. As Paul’s pass ascended to its peak, Gilgeous-Alexander and Diallo couldn’t help but stand on their toes.
In a blur, Noel came streaking in from the backcourt, right across Gilgeous-Alexander and Diallo’s sightline. Noel flashed in behind Schröder, who had filled the lane to make himself available for a pass. In fact, as Paul’s lob went up, Schröder bent his knees reflexively to jump. He soon realized he had no chance to go get it.
“I was like, ‘where is he going with it?,” Schröder said, “but then I saw Nerlens.”
“I didn’t even know he was going to throw it. I saw it flying up, so I said, ‘alright, that’s for me’,” Noel grinned.
Noel spring-boarded off both feet, leaping through the middle of the lane. At the scorer’s table, Gilgeous-Alexander and Diallo were also in flight, jumping in solidarity with their teammate.
“I did not know I did that,” Gilgeous-Alexander said after the game. “I guess I wanted to make sure he caught the ball, so I had to jump with him to give him energy.”
Two large hands enveloped the floating orb and Noel briskly slammed Paul’s pass home, igniting pandemonium on the floor from Thunder players and euphoria in the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd as Portland was forced to call timeout.