Brewer Steals the Show, Thunder Seals a Win – OKC 121, LAC 113
The LA Clippers were making their final push, a last-ditch effort after being kept at bay by the Thunder for the entire second half.
Lou Williams attacked off the dribble and knocked down a driving, fall-away floater going to his right and then on the ensuing possession, the Clippers picked up a steal in the lane. As LA attacked in transition, there was a scramble to get back. The Clippers drive was stopped and the ball was flung out to the corner, awaiting a wide-open shooter.
In a blur, Thunder guard Corey Brewer flashed in front of the pass and snagged his sixth steal of the night, and the Thunder scampered out of Chesapeake Energy Arena with a 121-113 victory.
“It felt great,” Brewer said. “Anytime you can make a play like that on the defensive end and help the team win, it’s always a great feeling.”
A forest of arms blocked up passing lanes on the Thunder’s defensive end of the floor all night long, including that possession with 26.8 seconds to go that sealed the Thunder’s fifth-straight victory. If the LA Clippers were going to score on Friday night, it was going to have to be on isolations or second chances, because the Thunder clogged up all the drive-and-dish action.
“We did a good job of using our length, our size and our hands,” said point guard Russell Westbrook.
Head Coach Billy Donovan’s group, which leads the league in shot clock violations at 65, forced two on the night thanks to deflections and blocks. It also made a season-high 17 steals, part of 23 forced turnovers, which led directly to 31 Thunder points.
Many of those baskets came in transition, with Westbrook pushing the tempo and the speedy wing Brewer rushing alongside him for fast break finishes. The Thunder scored 26 fast break points in the game, and the newest addition was one of the key contributors in that department. Brewer finished with a team-high 22 points on 7-for-12 shooting, including a 2-for-4 mark from three-point range and a 6-for-7 night from the free throw line. By getting out ahead of the pack, Brewer put the pressure on the Clippers leaky transition defense.
“When you got a guy that you know is out there doing everything he can to get extra possessions and energize the team, it’s contagious,” forward Paul George said of Brewer. “We definitely feel it. We feel that energy, and you gotta match it.”
Despite all the success on the run, it was actually in the half-court where the Thunder offense put the game away on Friday. After the Clippers cut the Thunder lead to just five points with 4:44 to go, Westbrook found Carmelo Anthony in the right corner for a three-pointer off some nice movement.
A pair of Westbrook buckets and five Clippers points later, the Thunder needed a bucket to keep the scoreboard moving. Westbrook dropped the ball off to Anthony in the post, and from there the veteran forward went to work. But it wasn’t for a shot of his own. Anthony noticed a help defender coming over to him, zipped the ball back out to the perimeter and it zoomed from Westbrook to George to Brewer in the corner, who drained a massively important three-pointer with 1:44 to go.
“In those type of situations, it’s kind of just knowing the opposing team and what they’re going to do defensively. I kinda knew that they were going to double, so it was a matter of me just taking my time reading the defense, just making the simple play,” explained Anthony, who scored 9 points. “Start the ball movement from one side to the other to get it out of the post, make them scramble out of a double team and we got some good looks and got some big baskets after that.”
There was only one lead change in the game, and it happened early in the second quarter when the Thunder’s bench unit played a dominant stretch where it made 9 straight field goals to start the period, ripping off an 18-4 run. A catalyst during that stretch was Terrance Ferguson, the rookie high flier who brought the house down with a transition dunk and a three-pointer during the burst. Later, Ferguson cut baseline and finished a misplaced alley-oop pass on a lefty layup that he had to spin off the glass. The Thunder crowd buzzed for minutes after that one.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 17, 2018
“I’m not sure what happened. It was one of those in the moment things,” chuckled Ferguson, who finished with 12 points. “I think I saw that big dude (Clippers 7’3” center Boban Marjanovic) behind me. I was like, ‘I better get this up quick before he comes’.”
“That’s just when you’re feeling it,” Anthony grinned. “He played tremendously today. His energy and his effort on both ends of the court helped us a lot,” He sparked a run with that second unit coming in there and we took advantage of that.”
On the other end of the floor, Ferguson was one of many Thunder defenders who covered Clippers guard Lou Williams. Despite being one of the most explosive scorers in the league this season, the Thunder was able to use its big men to show on pick and rolls and string Williams out along the perimeter. Instead of letting Williams get downhill or have free looks from three-point range, the Thunder stymied him to 6-of-16 shooting, with zero made three-pointers.
“Don’t let him have anything easy and don’t let him have no threes,” Brewer said. “It’s all about making him drive and making him take tough shots.”
That defensive effort was necessary all night, and it partnered with an efficient offensive effort, as the Thunder racked up 30 assists on 46 made shots. Five Thunder players scored in double figures, and Donovan got 37 points from his bench. The ringleader was Westbrook, who recognized he wasn’t shooting it well in the first half and thus opted to hunt down shots for his teammates instead. Westbrook racked up 7 assists by halftime and finished with a 16-point, 10-rebound, 11-assist triple-double.
Highlights: Thunder vs. Clippers
By the Numbers
19 – Points for Paul George in the game, in addition to 7 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals and a block
23 – Turnovers forced by the Thunder, including two shot clock violations
26-6 – The Thunder’s advantage in fast break points in the game
The Last Word
“That’s what we do. We’re play defense. That’s what we’re going to try to do. That’s what’s been winning for us.” – forward Paul George
5 in a row. pic.twitter.com/93XSy1Ttzg
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 17, 2018