By Paris Lawson | Broadcast and Digital Reporter | okcthunder.com
Highlights: OKC vs. CLE
THE BIG PICTURE
The Thunder played with a lead for the majority of the ball game before Cleveland leveled the playing field behind a strong third-quarter swing. The turn of events set up a final frame that went down to the final minutes as both teams exchanged blows offensively. Despite falling short 107-102, OKC dominated in the rebounding battle, three Thunder players scored 17 or more points including Darius Bazley who led all reserves with 17 points and seven boards.
MOMENTS FROM THE 48
A Last Minute Fight
The Thunder’s offense got out to a strong start against Cleveland’s supersized frontline featuring three players over 6-foot-11. OKC utilized its ball movement to spread out Cleveland’s defense and force its big men to cover the perimeter. As a result, the Thunder’s guards found cracks and lanes to the paint where they were able to finish or generate a drive and kick to keep Cleveland moving.
OKC’s offense built up a lead of as many as 18 points in the first half and went into the locker room with a solid 10-point buffer.
However, the third frame belonged to the Cavs as they outscored OKC 37-29 to shrink the margin down to just two points going into the final quarter. With the energy shifted heavily in Cleveland’s favor, Cavs point guard Darius Garland exploded for 14 points while dishing out eight assists to bolster a 27-11 Cavalier run to close the frame.
This set up a battle in the fourth quarter that went all the way down to the final minutes with the Thunder clawing to regain its lead from the surging Cavs. With 40 seconds left on the clock, Cavs rookie Evan Mobley slammed home an alley-oop from Garland to put Cleveland ahead 103-99. Out of the Thunder timeout, big man Mike Muscala sank a 3-pointer to bring the Thunder’s deficit down to just one point with 32.5 seconds left.
Cleveland put the game away with a deep 3-pointer on the next possession by Lauri Markkanen with just 11.4 seconds left. Down two possessions with no timeouts remaining, the Thunder couldn’t close the gap before the buzzer sounded.
“That's why it's tough to be good and that's why habits are so important,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “We're inexperienced, and we have a ways to go and all these things are lessons and some of the best things that can happen to you is if you drift from your habits and you lose and it stings a little bit. That's not the worst thing in the world. We're better than the way we played there in the second half.”
Winning the Battle of the Boards
Coming into the game, the Thunder recognized that against Cleveland’s size inside it would take a gang-rebounding mentality to win the battle of the boards. By the end of the night, the Thunder outrebounded the Cavs 51-37 and pulled down 14 offensive rebounds that led straight to 20 second chance points. Four different Thunder players logged seven or more boards and both Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Josh Giddey recorded double-digit boards with 11 and 10 respectively.
“That was particularly a strength in the first half,” said Daigneault. “They’re one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league and obviously they have size and present a lot of dilemmas there. And I thought we gang rebounded in the first half. And also get stops here so rebounds to be had.
Big Minutes for Baze
Thunder forward Darius Bazley logged strong minutes off the bench for the Thunder against Cleveland. With his versatile frame and athleticism, he provided a solid matchup in the second unit with Cavs stretch big Kevin Love on both ends of the floor.
In the first half, Bazley recorded nine points on 3-of-4 shooting from the field and by the end of the night the third-year forward led all scorers with 17 points and seven rebounds and even went a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line.
“Offensively, he just continues to play inside of his role for the most part and thought he had a really good game,” said Daigneault. “He chose his spots, was active, energetic, got his athleticism into it. He was good tonight.”
“Baze has been good, he’s been aggressive. He's been playing free. He's looking more like himself every day,” said Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. “Obviously he has great intangibles: athleticism, size length. He's getting closer to being a really, really good player. He's learning, he's getting better every day and it's good to see it.”
THE LAST WORD
Daigneault on the game overall…
“We did a lot of good things tonight. Did a lot of good things, especially in the first half to build that lead. Coming out of halftime - that was why we had the lead we did, but didn't follow through the way that we could have.”
“The first half we're playing better basketball – unselfish, together, especially offensively and in the second half, we got a little bit sticky. Still had good moments, but in close games against good teams, every possession matters and there's for sure some possessions that we wish would get back.”— Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on the early lead and the switch in the third quarter
OKC heads out on its longest road trip of the season that spans a full week and four games. The Thunder’s first stop will be in Dallas on Monday where the team will take on the Mavericks at 7:30 pm CT.