Furious Fourth Quarter Rally Capped by Westbrook Layup, Defensive Stand – OKC 109, BKN 108
By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | firstname.lastname@example.org
Carmelo Anthony counted down from five seconds, just to keep time with the referee, and Andre Roberson stayed both strong and nimble to track Spencer Dinwiddie out to the three-point line. The Thunder’s defensive ace forced the Brooklyn Nets guard to catch it deep and didn’t give an inch, and Dinwiddie’s desperation jumper fell short and right to seal a heart-thumping 109-108 Thunder win.
“Dre, before (Dinwiddie) even got the ball, did a terrific job of handling that,” Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan noted.
“(Roberson) forced (Dinwiddie) back up to the ball, which was a huge play because it got him into an area of the floor where Dre could kind of contain the dribble,” Donovan added.
“Just make the count with the ref, kind of put the onus on the ref,” Anthony said of his own job on the play. “Just try to not let the ball go where it wants to, and know how to straddle the line there.”
It took three timeouts, two by Brooklyn and one by Oklahoma City, for the Nets to even inbound the ball with 3.3 seconds to go, with a raucous crowd making the scene all the more frenetic in the final seconds. The faithful in Chesapeake Energy Arena had plenty of reason to cheer. On the previous possession, Russell Westbrook answered a Dinwiddie layup with a driving bucket of his own, bursting down the right side of the lane with a tough finish through traffic. The massive layup counted for two of Westbrook’s 32 points on the night, including 20 after halftime.
“Get to the basket,” Westbrook said of his mindset. “They sit in the paint all game long. Get to the basket.”
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 24, 2018
What preceded Westbrook’s clutch bucket was one of the most furious Thunder comebacks in recent memory. Down 15 with 1:28 to go in the third quarter, the Thunder could have folded. At the start of the fourth quarter, Donovan’s club had made just 2-of-17 three-pointers and 14-of-35 (40 percent) of its shots in the paint, while Brooklyn had made 13-of-32 threes.
Still, the Thunder relentlessly attack and completely changed the game in the fourth quarter, when it outscored Brooklyn 35-23. Despite getting stonewalled earlier in the game, the Thunder went 4-for-8 in the paint in the final frame, while also knocking down 5-of-8 three-pointers, including back-to-back corner bombs from Patrick Patterson.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 24, 2018
The aggressive tone for the game was set all the way back in the first quarter, even if shots weren’t falling. Paul George was the man to do it, racking up 16 of his 28 points in the first quarter alone, including 3 of his 11 free throw attempts. He attacked the paint, knocked down a three and hit those elbow jumpers to keep the defense honest, and it helped lead the Thunder to 32 free throw attempts on the night.
“(George) has been playing like that all season. He came out, competed at a high level. That’s what he does,” Westbrook said. “That’s why he’s one of the best players in this league. He can get hot, and he kept us afloat.”
“I just gotta be aggressive,” George said. “Not only to help myself but to help the team. To start out, me being aggressive opens up everything for everybody.”
Despite George’s hot start, the Thunder’s offense sputtered in the second quarter and went into halftime trailing by 12, and shooting just 36.5 percent from the field, while Brooklyn was at 50 percent shooting. In the second half, the Thunder flipped those numbers around, shooting 50 percent on the offensive end and holding Brooklyn to just 43.6 percent from the field, in addition to five turnovers in the fourth quarter, more than the Thunder had for the entire night. An underrated wrinkle to this one was the way the Thunder protected the ball, while managing to score 13 points off 14 Nets giveaways.
“If we would have turned the ball over, we would have had no chance to win tonight. That was really big,” Donovan said.
“That second half, we did a better job of guarding,” George added. “We did it together. We talked it out, we figured it out. What can we do. We were on the court and we were talking things out. It’s just communication, and we did a great job of coming into this locker room and communicating.
After slashing the Nets lead down to three in the third quarter, the Thunder couldn’t quite get over the hump, and Brooklyn rallied to go up 15 again. To start the fourth quarter, there was a brand new energy, and a resolve on the part of the Thunder, led by Raymond Felton. The backup point guard rattled off two three-pointers, a two-point jumper and a high-arcing floater that bounced once off the rim and dropped down into the net all in the span of 2:13, forcing a Nets timeout. The momentum caused by a 10-4 Thunder spurt brought the crowd to life, and Felton egged them on.
“I wanted to win,” Felton said, seriously. “The crowd is amazing here. I always thought that when I used to come to play this team. Just to be on the home side of it is a wonderful feeling.”
After that, it was all forward momentum for the Thunder, as the Thunder kept getting downhill to the basket, riding the wave to the finish.
Highlights: Thunder vs. Nets - 1/23
By the Numbers
4 – Turnovers for the Thunder on the night, an Oklahoma City season low
28 – Points for Paul George, including 16 in the first quarter alone, thanks to 9-for-11 free throw shooting
35-23 – The amount by which the Thunder outscored the Nets in the fourth quarter
The Last Word
“This was one of the best wins we’ve had all year… The resiliency and the toughness to make the plays we had to make… Our guys just kept fighting and battling all the way through.” - Head Coach Billy Donovan