Thunder Takes on Suns in Third Game of Homestand

Date: Dec. 20, 2019Tip-Off Time: 7 p.m. CTTelevision: Fox Sports OklahomaRadio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network

Thunder Status The Thunder has emerged on the winning side of a 26- and 24-point deficit on back-to-back occasions to kick off its five-game homestand. On Monday against Chicago, the Thunder set a new record for the largest comeback on the Thunder floor after digging its way out of a 26-point hole.

History repeated itself on Wednesday when the Thunder faced Memphis at Chesapeake Energy Arena. With seven minutes left in the third quarter, the Grizzlies amassed a 24-point lead. Thunder sixth man, Dennis Schröder entered in the game and instantly injected much-needed energy into the Thunder offense by picking up full court, attacking the rim and getting to the free-throw line.

“Obviously, you don’t want to be in the situation, but if it happens you want to win,” said Thunder guard Chris Paul. “It’s great, too, that it’s such a team effort. The night against Chicago, I got it going. Last night, Dennis got it going. It’s just fun when it’s like that because I think it brings everyone together.”

Opponent Breakdown The Suns offense operates on balanced scoring. The team is first in the league in assists per game lead by Ricky Rubio who dishes out over 9.0 per contest. He surrounded by threats on the floor like Kelly Oubre Jr. who brings in 17.7 points and 6.0 boards per game. Recently reinserted into the Phoenix lineup is center Deandre Ayton, who is averaging 18.8 points and 11.5 rebounds in his two games back for the Suns.

“They’re really good sharing the ball, passing the ball. High-assist team. (Rubio) is a great passer,” noted Head Coach BillyDonovan. “They’ve got Ayton back now. They’re very good. They’re clearly better with him in their lineup.”

 “They play hard,” Paul said. “You know they’re going to compete.”

Matchup Focus Leading the balanced offensive attack for the Suns is Ricky Rubio. Averaging 9.5 assists per game, he leads the charge for the Suns offense while also adding in 13.1 points and 4.8 rebounds. Thunder perimeter defenders like Chris Paul, Terrance Ferguson and Dennis Schröder will look to stall his facilitating and limit his playmaking opportunities.

Stat to Watch The Thunder lead the league in percentage of points from the free-throw line with 18.3 percent of its points coming from the charity stripe. In its past two comeback games, the Thunder has attempted 15 and 19 more free throws than its opponent respectively. Getting to the free-throw line has played a major factor in the Thunder’s ability to put points on the board, even when shots aren’t falling in its direction.   “It’s huge, and that’s why Coach is always on us about playing with pace, playing downhill and trying to get to the paint,” Paul said. “And we’ve got pretty good free throw shooters, so the more we can get to the line, the better for us.”

Thunder Trend In the midst of the Thunder rallying to comeback from down 26 and 24 points on consecutive games, it has taken strong defensive contributions from several players to do so. In Wednesday’s game, rookie Darius Bazley swatted away four shots while Abdel Nader notched a timely steal late in the game with the help of a trap set by him and Steven Adams. The Thunder’s ability to create momentum on the defensive side of the ball, played a key role in its ability to overcome such large deficits. In Wednesday’s case, it was a switch up in coverages for the big men to be more aggressive in pick and rolls instead of back in a drop coverage.

“We were down by 24 points, so we were just trying to create any kind of momentum, or swing or energy in the game,” Donovan said. “We just thought that would be a way to be a little bit more aggressive.”