Defense Fuels Thunder Comeback Win

The Reporters’ Notebook

By Nick Gallo and Paris Lawson | okcthunder.com

Highlights: OKC 124, PHX 120

The Big Picture

Box Score: OKC 124, PHX 120

As Isaiah Joe lined up a transition 3 on the right wing, the Paycom Center crowd rose to its feet in unison. It was one of those moments where 18,000 people knew the ball was going in before it even left their players’ hand, and that’s exactly what happened. As Joe flexed and stomped back down court moments after the ball splashed through the net, it was pandemonium in Paycom, the delirious crowd drowning out the timeout called by Phoenix to quell the Thunder’s 18-2 run.

After a sequence of four-straight tenacious defensive stops in the early stages of the fourth quarter, the Thunder ripped off its most emphatic run of the season, made even more impressive due to the opponent OKC was hosting. The Phoenix Suns came in fourth in the Western Conference standings and have elite shotmakers in Devin Booker and Chris Paul surrounded by a bevy of veteran role players, but the Thunder hung in there long enough in this one to turn a 15-point deficit into a 124-120 victory. 

It was the Thunder’s fifth largest comeback of the season and the 15th of 10-or-more points this season as OKC stunned the Suns and sent the matinee Thunder crowd home with tons of good vibes. Whether it was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scoring 40 points without even attempting a 3-pointer or Aaron Wiggins coming in as the closing defensive stopper after not playing for the first three quarters, the Thunder go contributions up and down the roster for a full team victory. 

First Quarter

Nick: The Thunder had to punch back quickly against a veteran Phoenix team who came out swinging from the opening tip. Over the course of the year the Thunder has gotten better at responding in the moment, and on Sunday it was one of the team leaders Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who got things ignited. With some hard-charging coast-to-coast layups by Shai and a Lu Dort steal sandwiched in between, the Thunder was able to shave a 13-point lead down and keep chipping away throughout the latter stages of the opening quarter. 

Paris: The Thunder trailed by as many as 13 points in the first quarter as it struggled to find its footing offensively. However, the squad closed out the quarter on a 9-1 run that included a pair of hard-earned layups by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a 3-pointer by Lindy Waters III to cut the lead down to just four points. The Thunder’s effort also showed up on the defensive end with three consecutive possessions of stops including a steal from Dario Saric that led to a layup for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. 

Second Quarter

Nick: Isaiah Joe ripped off 10-straight points for the Thunder in the initial stages of the second quarter, and made a bucket in four different ways during the stretch. While he’s been one of the biggest catch-and-shoot 3-point threats all season long, Joe started his spurt with a pump fake, step through baseline jumper and continued it with a blow-by driving layup from the left side of the floor to the right side of the rim. It was only after that sequence that Joe got his 3-point shot involved in the game, with an off-the-dribble 3 on the left wing and then a catch-and-shoot 3 on the right side of the floor. Joe finished the game with 15 points on three-made 3s and was a part of the Thunder’s small-ball lineup that closed out the game. 

Paris: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stood at the free throw line as the ball was dribbled across halfcourt. Phoenix set up its defense in a zone and Josh Giddey navigated with the ball to the right wing. SGA rushed up to set a screen for his teammate and as he rolled to the rim, Giddey quickly dropped off a bounce pass to SGA who was wide open for a layup. The unique pick and roll action with Gilgeous-Alexander as a screen setter is a nice wrinkle option for the Thunder to utilize to cause a little confusion for Phoenix’s defense. 

Third Quarter

Nick: A “BOOM” rang out inside of Paycom Center on Sunday afternoon, as rookie center Jaylin Williams knocked down a corner 3 off a dish from a driving Lu Dort. It was his second-made 3 of the game, and the bucket put him over 40 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s this season. In addition to completing his nightly duty of drawing a charge on his opponent, Williams broke into double figures scoring for the seventh time in his career. With 10 points and six rebounds, Williams also notched his sixth game of at least 10 points and five rebounds so far this year.  

Paris: Lu Dort found his stroke from deep in the third frame. The defensive stopper cashed in three 3-pointers and ultimately racked up 11 points. He was all over the floor for the Thunder during the frame, not only knocking down shots, but also defending Devin Booker and Chris Paul on the other end – getting stops and drawing his patented offensive fouls off of ball screens. For the night, Dort finished the night with 20 points on 7-of-11 from the field and 4-of-6 from the 3-point line. 

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander tipped the ball away from Cam Payne and it landed into the lap of Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. The Thunder had just 4.1 seconds to get a shot up. Robinson-Earl shoveled the ball over to Gilgeous-Alexander who erupted up the floor, dodging Suns defenders on the way. Once he for into the paint, the All-Star rose up and leaned into the contact from Devin Booker and banked the ball off the glass as the clock expired. It was a much-needed injection of energy that put the Thunder at just a six-point deficit heading into the final frame.

Fourth Quarter

Paris: Jalen Williams stood at the front of the rim as Jock Landale came barreling down the middle of the lane. As Phoenix’s bog man elevated for a layup, his shot was stuffed by the extended arm of Jalen Williams. On the next possession, it was Aaron Wiggins responsible for the stop. In just his first possession off the bench for the Thunder, stepped into the passing lane, snatched the ball and finished a layup in transition. Next, it was Isaiah Joe who sacrificed his body to draw an offensive foul on Damien Lee who lowered his shoulder on a drive. Finally, it was Lindy Waters III getting in on the action with a theft of his own that resulted in a layup and a timeout called by the Suns. The surge defensively helped trim down its deficit to just four points with eight minutes left to go in the fourth. 

Nick: The Suns tried to stop the Thunder’s momentum after that defensive sequence, but OKC just kept on rolling and got a massive boost from an absolutely rocking Paycom Center. Josh Giddey finished with an acrobatic finger roll at the rim before hitting Wiggins on roll to the rim for a crafty layup to tie the game. After a bucket by Phoenix, Dort buried a three from the top of the key with 6:47 to go in regulation to give the Thunder its first lead since it was 2-0. The run wasn’t done there though, as Gilgeous-Alexander attacked and lobbed a pass to, of all people, Giddey who scored an alley-oop layup that kicked the fan frenzy one octave higher. After Wiggins stood up Devin Booker at the rim on a drive, Joe nailed a 3 in transition from the right wing that nearly blew the lid off the building, and left no doubt that the Thunder was going to roll to a win. 


“We need that out of this crowd. This is a great team to get behind. It's an easy team to relate to. It's a team that relates really well to the community here and we need people in seats.” –Coach Daigneault 

“It was super fun. The fans were loud and they stuck with us. We were struggling at certain points in the game and got off to a slow start, but similar to the way that we did,  just kind of weathering the storm. The fans stuck with us and their energy helped a lot.” —Aaron Wiggins

“We kind of felt that it was now or never. We either turned their water off or they were just gonna continue to score and they were gonna win the game. We knew the importance of this game and every game going forward for us this season.” –Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

What's Next

The Thunder hits the road once again for a four-game swing to face the LA Clippers twice, on Tuesday and Thursday, then the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday and the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday.

Sunday's Photos

By Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder