By Nick Gallo and Paris Lawson | okcthunder.com
Highlights: OKC 107, DET 106
The Big Picture
Box Score: OKC 107, DET 106
In a game where the Thunder had to parry every response that the Detroit Pistons had, rookie Jalen Williams came up with the final answer. Trailing by one with 7.3 seconds to go, Lu Dort snagged a vital offensive rebound, forced a jump ball and then won that jump ball by tipping it over to Josh Giddey. As the seconds drained off the clock, Giddey pushed the ball down the baseline and put up a shot that rolled tantalizingly off the rim. Positioned perfectly on the back side was Williams, who tipped the ball in with 0.1 seconds left to give the Thunder an exhilarating 107-106 home win.
OKC and Detroit played this entire game within a 14-point window, with neither team leading by more than 8 in a battle that featured 11 ties and 15 lead changes. Every time the Thunder pushed the lead out to a few possessions, the frisky Pistons had an answer to cut it back down to just one possession or tie it. Despite the way Detroit kept it close, the Thunder was much better defensively on the second night of the back to back - scrapping and hustling by forcing turnovers and drawing charges throughout the night.
Before the game, Dort said that competing and staying together were going to be the most critical elements of the game, and that’s exactly what the Thunder did for 48 minutes. The shots weren’t always falling for OKC and they rained in during the fourth quarter for Detroit, but the Thunder hung in there, scrapped and stayed vigilant for its moment to strike. Tonight, that learned perseverance resulted in a buzzer-beating game-winner.
Nick: In an early game possession, Jalen Williams relocated on the right wing to create an opening for himself and his teammate Josh Giddey hit him right in the shooting pocket. Williams rose up and nailed the catch-and-shoot look from behind the arc in a continuation of the hot shooting month he’s had. In the month of March Williams is now 19-for-38 from the 3-point line after Wednesday night’s game. Williams’ 3-point percentage has improved every single month this season, from 29.5 percent in October and November, 31.6 percent in December, 32.5 percent in January and 37.5 percent in February before putting up this sensational shooting display in March.
Paris: Isaiah Joe had the Detroit Pistons on high alert after knocking down six 3-pointers the night before. Detroit’s defenders were heavily denying Joe on the perimeter, now allowing him to get a look from behind the arc. Rather than fight the pressure, Joe used it to his advantage, simply cutting backdoor while Jaylin Williams surveyed the ball at the top of the key. Williams zipped the ball inside to Joe who elevated for a two-handed slam. Though Joe is known for his shooting ability from deep, he’s consistently shown his sneaky athleticism and intelligence in making the right play offensively.
Nick: Some players see the rim better from certain spots on the floor, and while Aaron Wiggins takes his share of three-pointers from the corners, he’s excelled from above the break this year. In an inversion of most players’ shooting splits look like, Wiggins has been better above the break - shooting 45 percent. That number was aided by 3-for-3 shooting on 3-pointers above the break in the second quarter against the Pistons. The first one was a dribble up three in transition, but the other two were catch-and-shoot looks as Wiggins racked up 13 of his 19 total points in the first half. The Thunder needed a spark off the bench in this one, and Wiggins helped provide that with four rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal on the night.
Paris: Josh Giddey attacked the right side of the rim and went right up against the big man for Detroit James Wiseman. Unfazed, Giddey continued his drive to the basket and took on the contact for an and-one. Giddey finished the half with 11 points, not only utilizing his size against Detroit’s smaller guards, but also matching the physicality of the Pistons front line with physicality of his own. By the end of the night, the second year guard racked up 18 points, five rebounds and seven assists.
Paris: The Thunder trailed by two points coming out of halftime and it was big man Jaylin Williams who helped spark OKC’s offense out of the break with a couple of big time booms. The rookie knocked down 3-pointers on back to back possessions to help the Thunder regain its lead. The buckets were Williams’ first two field goal attempts for the game – both makes. Williams’ 3-pointers sparked a 15-5 run by OKC that shifted the momentum of the game back in the Thunder’s favor.
Nick: While there are plenty of big time plays that result in points on the board, one play in the early moments of the third quarter was just as impactful by ensuring that no points were scored. Jaylin Williams raced down court in transition defense and quickly replaced Isaiah Joe as the defender on Pistons big man James Wiseman. Actively trying to find an opening for a deep seal post up, Wiseman was active in the paint. Williams was more active. Continuing to front the post, work around, body him up and push him off his spot, Williams worked incredibly hard to ensure Wiseman didn’t get a pitch ahead pass that could have put the Pistons in an advantage situation. The result was Detroit not getting anything going until late in the shot clock, and eventually having to inbound the ball with 3.7 seconds left. With some more great team defense, the Thunder eventually forced a shot clock violation on the possession. That type of defense helped OKC go plus-six on the scoreboard in the third quarter, and hold Detroit to just 24 points.
Nick: Great communication is a massive part of a defensive stand, and the Thunder used it to perfection midway through the fourth quarter. As Wiseman drove down the baseline, Wiggins called out to his teammate Olivier Sarr that the Pistons center doesn’t like to go right. Sarr bodied up Wiseman to prevent him from making any more progress with his left handed dribble, and when Wiseman got pinned on the baseline he had nowhere to go. Out of desperation, Wiseman tried a risky cross-court pass through the middle of the Thunder’s defense, and Josh Giddey was in precisely the right spot at the left elbow to pick off the pass. On the ensuing run out Giddey found Jalen Williams for a fast break layup, forcing a Detroit timeout. The play was the culmination of knowing personnel, communication, teamwork and being in the right spot in the defensive shell as OKC turned defense into offense.
Paris: It was the 41st time this season that the Thunder found itself in a clutch game. With the score tied 100-100, the Thunder desperately needed a lift offensively to gain some separation against the Pistons. Jalen Williams attacked off a ball screen on the right wing and on the backside of the play, Lu Dort cut backdoor down the middle of the lane. Williams bounced the ball through the paint into the hands of Dort who laid the ball in while taking on contact for an and-one opportunity to give the Thunder a critical 3-point lead with two minutes remaining.
“We stayed pretty steady throughout the night. I thought we were steady to start, steady throughout the first half and steady throughout the second. That's what we were hoping for tonight is better focus level especially defensively. I thought we had that despite a pretty good shooting night for them. It was a good step forward for us.” –Coach Daigneault
“It's good to always go through these kind of close games. We've had two back to back. We've had a lot all year. Especially being the youngest team in the NBA, the more you can get in these situations, the more that you can grow from and learn from. Obviously tonight I think we did a lot of stuff well down the stretch that kind of led to the obviously the lay in at the end. Focusing on that, I think the way we were able to manage the clock and go through all that, a lot of little stuff built up for us to be able to get that last possession.” —Jalen Williams
The Thunder heads out to Indianapolis to face the Pacers on Friday night before returning home to host the Phoenix Suns on Sunday evening.
By Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder