Lock Down Defense, 4th Quarter Surge Leads Thunder to Victory – OKC 107, LAL 100

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Digital Reporter | mailbag@okcthunder.com

LOS ANGELES – Russell Westbrook unveiled a new shoe on Tuesday whose slogan is “Own the Chaos”. In his brightly colored Jordan Brand Why Not Zer0.2 sneakers, Westbrook had a lot of chaos to deal with against the Los Angeles Lakers. Fortunately, he had Paul George, a batch of reliable teammates and his own focus and discipline to help the Thunder soar to a 107-100 victory.

In a span of just 8:48 to start the first quarter, the Thunder’s leading and most dynamic scorer Paul George was suddenly sidelined with three first quarter fouls. It was an aggressive and physical game, and George got the poor end of the whistle in the first quarter, as did the Thunder as a whole. The Lakers attempted 22 free throws in the first half in total, keeping pace with the Thunder despite not executing as well on either end of the floor. 

George’s foul trouble may have disrupted the Thunder’s normal rotation for a stretch, but Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club kept it together. The Thunder managed to score 59 first half points, including 13 by George in the second period when he started to get it going with little floaters in the lane and one big-time catch and shoot three-pointer. 

“I just wanted to play basketball, honestly. I didn’t come to LA to sit on the bench,” George quipped.

“(George) did a good job of just staying focused,” Westbrook noted. “We were making the game easy for him, getting him open looks and in transition and he stayed the course throughout the game.”

After halftime, however, the shots just wouldn’t fall for anyone on the Thunder, most of all Westbrook who ended up just 2-for-18 from the field after three quarters. The Thunder as a whole went just 5-for-23 in the third, getting outscored by 6 in the period by a Lakers squad whose reserves made timely buckets late in the quarter. 

Maybe they took the Lakers’ small burst to end the third as a challenge, but the Thunder’s reserves delivered an even more potent counterpunch to start the final frame. Starting with an Abdel Nader to Nerlens Noel bucket and continuing through a catch and shoot three by Nader and a floater by Dennis Schröder, the Thunder’s second unit was absolutely dominant in the fourth quarter and set the Thunder’s starters up with the momentum they needed to close out the win. 

“It was executing on both ends,” said Nader. “It was making the right passes on the offensive end, taking the right shots and defending on the other end.”

“A big key was Nerlens. He finishes around the rim very well with floaters and dunks,” Nader added. “We were just trying to force them to shoot mid-ranges. (Lakers forward Brandon) Ingram was posting up a lot, we were trying to get him to not attack the rim and take those pull-ups.”

The tone was set on the glass in the fourth, as the Thunder out-rebounded the Lakers 23-9 in the period, reversing the trend from the first three quarters of the game. In general, the Thunder’s ability to outmuscle the Lakers in the paint was a critical factor. Los Angeles came into the game at the top in the league at scoring in the paint and shooting percentage around the rim, but the Thunder made that extremely difficult all night but particularly in the fourth quarter. For the game, the Thunder took eight more shots in the paint than the Lakers, who had taken 70 more shots in the restricted area than any other team this year going into the game. 

“The second unit did a good job of defending, rebounding the basketball and getting out into transition,” said Westbrook.

As the Thunder’s second unit surged, Westbrook checked back in and then later George, but the Thunder still led just 91-89 with 4:36 to go. From there on, the Thunder in large part executed nicely on both ends to get the shots it wanted and got the stops it needed to deny the Lakers from a comeback chance.  

“We played some defense,” George noted. “We forced them to play iso ball. We took them out of pick and rolls. We were good on their pin down (screening actions). We tried to keep a body on (Lakers guard Josh) Hart and keep a body on (Lakers guard Kentavious) Caldwell-Pope and just force them to shoot everything over us and over top of us.”

The final stretch started with two classic Paul George plays – a post-up at the right elbow for a jump shot, then a split of a double team on a pick and roll going left. George converted both baskets and the Thunder’s lead never crept below three the rest of the way. The Thunder knocked down a handful of free throws, then the capper to the 12-3 closing run was a Westbrook to George baseline alley-oop jam that turned those Staples Center boos into gasps of adulation.

Paul George

“(Westbrook) does so much more stuff than score the ball,” said George. “It’s the reason why we’re winning when he’s not shooting well. It’s because he does so much that sometimes doesn’t even show up on the stat sheet. He just makes winning plays.”

“Scoring is just a part of my game,” Westbrook said. “I do everything, so when there are nights like that, I’m able to impact the game other ways.”

For the game, Westbrook and his control of the chaos (just two 4th quarter field goal attempts) finished with his 12th triple-double of the season, a 14-point, 16-rebound, 10-assist effort. George meanwhile scored 37 points on 15-of-29 shooting to go with 4 rebounds and 4 steals in his homecoming, smiling all the way with his Thunder teammates as it moved on from Tinseltown for its next stop on the West Coast - Portland on Friday.


Highlights: Thunder 107, Lakers 100


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