Hot Start, Professional Finish Earns Thunder a Home Win – OKC 118, PHX 101

As if there was Spider Man-style webbing on his fingertips, Dennis Schröder snared a laser of a Paul George pass with just his right hand, taking the momentum from the zipping ball to lead him into a three-pointer. It hadn’t been the German point guard’s shooting night up until then, but thanks to a snag that would have made the late, great Stan Lee proud, Schröder’s catch and shoot jumper ripped right through the net.  

Schröder knocked down another triple from near the same spot on the left wing the next trip down court, another one of the Thunder’s 13 made three-pointers in the game as Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club shot 48.1 percent from behind the arc for the night.

In a tantalizing first half against the Phoenix Suns, the Thunder shot 46.9 percent, including 8-of-14 from three and 10-of-11 from the free throw line while holding Phoenix to just 39 percent shooting and 2-of-13 from behind the arc. The game busted open due to a mesmerizing 22-0 Thunder run midway through the first quarter, where the big kids on the block kept making plays on both ends of the floor.

“As a group we sense the energy. We were the more aggressive team,” said George, who hit a season-high 6 three-pointers for 32 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. “We just jumped on them. Once you get one stop, you get another. At that point we were just in a groove. We felt good out there.”

“We came out strong, moved the ball, played together and played with pace on the offensive end,” said Schröder. “That was the key for the game.”

Two key players in the Thunder’s effort were Steven Adams and Terrance Ferguson, each of whom contributed in different ways. Adams (18 points on 9-of-13 shooting) was a featured member of the offensive gameplan early, putting Suns rookie center Deandre Ayton in a blender on a few occasions with his rolls to the rim and finishes around the bucket.

“I’m just doing my role, same with every other play. It ain’t just me,” Adams demurred. “All the small things, if you do them at a high level, the team will benefit. All of us doing that kind of contributes to that.”

Ferguson, the fleet-footed, lanky, high-flying guard was tasked with defending Suns sharpshooter Devin Booker for most of the night, and the Thunder youngster delivered. The Tulsa native hawked Booker throughout full possessions, keeping his feet moving to maintain proper guarding position in front of his assignment. For the game, Booker shot just 7-of-18 from the floor with 3 turnovers, and Ferguson was a game-high plus-30 in the box score after the game.

“We gotta be comfortable with our young guys having matchups,” said George. “I trust Ferg. Coach trusts him. It was a good moment for Ferg right there.”

With a hungry young Suns team on the other side – one that lost in Oklahoma City just a couple weeks ago – the Thunder knew there would be another run coming back its direction. That Phoenix burst started right at the outset of the second half, with dribble drives into the paint and open three-pointers on the perimeter.

Many of those easy buckets were self-inflicted by the Thunder, in part due to 7 turnovers in the quarter but also some miscues defensively. In the 12-minute period, the Thunder was outscored 35-22, attempting zero free throws and giving up 13-of-18 shooting and 9 points off turnovers to the Suns.

“I think we were thinking too much instead of guarding what was there,” Adams explained. “It was very simple actions with a lot of breakdowns. They were getting layups. Whenever that happens, it was on our end. We just kind of stuck with it, figured it out and started to get timing back.”

By the time the Thunder finally found equilibrium, it’s 28-point lead was slashed all the way down to 7 at 93-86 with 7:57 to go. Schröder then Adams and Ferguson followed by George and Grant returned to the floor within 90 seconds, and by the 4:20 mark, the Thunder’s lead was back up to 18, and it never dipped below 16 the rest of the way. With a steady tempo, deliberate offense and strong defensive possessions defined by the extra efforts needed to get possession back, the Thunder’s lead gradually ticked up higher.

“We just slowed it down," said George. "As fast as we want to play, at that point in the game we wanted to slow it down. We had sets that we went out and executed and we were able to put the game away.”

“We executed well down the stretch. We were long, got some steals,” said Schröder, who racked up 20 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds and 4 steals. “Down the stretch we were, defensively, active.”

With 2:55 to go, Adams got his hand low into the passing lane and forced a TJ Warren turnover, and as the ball slipped out to midcourt, George realized he had open space for a 3-on-0 fast break. Grant and Schröder trailed him slightly, and George lofted the ball off the backboard. It caromed off high in the air, and Grant leapt towards the rafters to hammer it home, Schröder alongside him in the air, demonstrating his glee at the exclamation point on the Thunder’s 118-101 victory.

“I thought it was for me,” Schröder joked with a wry grin. “I was ready to catch that one, but (Grant) took it from me.”

“Yeah, the little guy – I didn’t see Dennis on that play,” George cracked.

The win makes it 8-of-9 for the Thunder, including 3-of-4 without Russell Westbrook in the lineup. It’s still early in the season, but the Thunder is feeling good both about how it has been playing but also the room it still has to improve. With the work in front of it, the Thunder can continue this home stand at Chesapeake Energy Arena with the confidence required of an NBA team looking to put victories in the bank.

“It’s a long year,” noted George. “One game at a time. We’re just trying to get better.”

Highlights: Thunder 118, Suns 101