Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
(Rocky Widner | NBAE via Getty Images)

OKC Falls Short in See-Saw Battle

Game Recap: OKC 111, SAC 117

By Paris Lawson | Broadcast and Digital Reporter | okcthunder.com

THE BIG PICTURE

After seven ties and 10 lead changes, the Thunder fell to the Kings in a dramatic game of runs 117 to 111. The Thunder fell behind by as many as 17 in the fourth quarter, but a poised and steady offensive attack shrank the lead to single digits and kept pressure on the Kings through the final buzzer. It took offensive contributions from every player who stepped on the floor for the Thunder, a next man up mentality and a 33-point performance from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to keep the Thunder afloat in this one. 

MOMENTS FROM THE 48

Game of Runs

Throughout the first three quarters, the Thunder and the Kings exchanged momentum swinging runs that resulted in seven ties and 10 lead changes. For every 10-0 run Sacramento strung together, OKC would respond with an offensive surge of its own. Heading into the final frame, Sacramento held a marginal six-point lead. 

However, the Thunder hit a dry spell offensively opening the fourth quarter. Sacramento took full advantage to the tune of an 18-8 run over the first seven and a half minutes to take a 17-point lead. 

The Thunder, once again refusing to go down without a fight, began slowly chipping away at the Kings’ lead by getting to the free throw line. In the fourth quarter alone, OKC attempted 19 free throws led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who attempted 12 in the frame. Eventually, the Thunder had sliced Sacramento’s lead down to just six points with 22 seconds left. Although the Kings were able to hold off the Thunder for the final few possessions, OKC’s 48-minute mentality forced the Kings to burn the remainder of their timeouts and substantially extend the fourth quarter. 

“By the time I came to the game, we were close to bonus. So I just tried to use that,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “Obviously they had a lead. When you go to the free throw line, the clock stops and you get a chance to score and that's the best way to cut into it.”

“Our guys were aggressive attacking, embracing the physicality on the drives, we got into the bonus. So Shai did a good job, our guys did a good job of getting into their bodies, taking advantage of that,” said Thunder assistant coach Mike Wilks. “Allow us to claw back into the game a little bit and extend the game and give ourselves a chance to throw a punch until the last second.”

Rocky Widner | NBAE via Getty Images

Next Man Up

In the absence of six players and head coach Mark Daigneault due to health and safety protocols, it was next man up for the Thunder against the Kings. Thunder assistant coach Mike Wilks stepped up on the sidelines as acting head coach in his third season on OKC’s coaching staff. Wilks received the call while he was on the elliptical the morning of the game that he would be at the helm for the Thunder that night. 

“First of all, just extremely grateful. It's a surreal moment for me to be in this situation,” Wilks said pregame. “Our coaching staff, our players, everybody has my back and it is really not about me. It’s about competing together, working together. It's just the opportunity to learn and grow, not just for me but for all of us in this unique situation.”

The Thunder also received significant minutes from Olivier Sarr who the Thunder signed to a 10-day contract from the OKC Blue. The 7-foot Frenchman stepped into the game in the first quarter and provided an immediate spark with four points, four rebounds and two blocks in a matter of just eight minutes. 

“I really want to take my hat off to [OKC Blue head coach] Grant Gibbs preparing our guys and making them ready for this situation,” said Wilks. “It was it was a pretty seamless transition for the most part, but [Sarr] provided great activity, great energy, provided some rim protection was just active. He gave us definitely a really good boost tonight.”

“I watched a lot of games and the good thing is with the Blue we play kind of a similar game. So it was really kind of easy to blend in,” said Sarr. “It was fairly easy and everybody helped me on the court.

On the heels of his career 24-point performance on Sunday, rookie two-way Aaron Wiggins also provided a lift to the Thunder’s offense with 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field. The wing also logged a block and a steal to go with his five rebounds. 

“His overall motor has been impressive,” said Wilks. “Then offensively, just being ready to make simple plays. Take open the shots. Attack close outs, make cuts off the ball and playing within our team concept.”

Rocky Widner | NBAE via Getty Images

Balanced Scoring

While Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 33 points on Tuesday, the team received offensive contributions from each player to step into the game. Every player who logged minutes for the Thunder against Sacramento scored. In addition, nine different players sank a 3-pointer, which marks the second most for the Thunder this season. 

The Last Word

“Unique situation, tough day but really resilient group. Proud of the way we responded, but I'm not surprised working with these guys. We got down a few times, but they keep fighting. They keep coming. They keep competing. Just very proud of the way we competed tonight, we had some lows, but we kept fighting and kept coming to the end.”

Mike Wilks on how the team responded to the unique circumstances

“Just not losing sight of how much time we had left and understanding that nobody could still make it a game just kind of knowing that you’ve got to play 48 minutes. That's been one of our biggest things throughout the season so far.  We just try to continue to push. It wasn't enough, but we gave it what we had and continued to compete.”

Aaron Wiggins on the team’s comeback effort in the fourth
Rocky Widner | NBAE via Getty Images

What’s Next 

It will be a quick turnaround for the Thunder who close out their West Coast back-to-back in Phoenix for a rematch with the Suns. From there, the team will return to Oklahoma City to take on the New York Knicks on New Year’s Eve.