Thunder Falls in Defensive Battle – OKC 96, WAS 102

WASHINGTON -- The Thunder’s defense kept the game close until the final minutes, but the issues that thwarted the team all night were the ones that did them in down the stretch.

On the third game in four nights of a challenging Detroit-Oklahoma City-Washington, D.C. sequence of games, the Thunder turned the ball over 21 times, including a critical one by Josh Huestis with the game tied with 39.4 seconds remaining. On the ensuing Thunder possession Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony rushed to get a two-for-one, and Anthony’s mid-range jumper missed. After both possessions, the Thunder committed unfortunate fouls in the backcourt, resulting in four free throws as a part of an 8-0 Wizards run to end a 102-96 Thunder loss.

“Russ drove, made a play, and you’re just playing at that point. We didn’t have good awareness of the time and shot clock at that point,” Anthony noted. “It’s something we’ll look at.”

“I take my hat off to our guys for competing. When we’re out there, it’s hard to think about three games in four nights. We’re just out there playing, trying to get a win,” Anthony continued. “We put ourselves in position to win on the road. It was 96-96 with a couple minutes to go in the game. Some things didn’t go our way, some shots didn’t fall our way, and those guys ran away with it.”

Rookie Terrance Ferguson started tonight’s game again in the absence of Andre Roberson, and tonight Huestis finished the game in lieu of Jerami Grant, who closed out Sunday’s win over the Philadelphia 76ers. Donovan went with Huestis for good reason. In the fourth quarter the rangy forward hit a big-time corner three-pointer and swatted a Bradley Beal driving layup attempt while just generally playing solidly alongside the starters. When the ball swung to him on that fourth quarter possession, however, he attempted to drive and dish to Steven Adams, but his pass was deflected.

“You know it was going to be a tough battle on the road. The difference in the game for us was I just didn’t think we executed great coming down the stretch. We had some opportunities,” Donovan opined. “With the execution piece of it the last three or four minutes, I wish we would have gotten better shots, taken care of the ball a little bit better, did a better job of moving the ball and not turning it over.”

In addition to the turnovers tonight for the Thunder, the biggest issue was the way the team finished shots it normally makes at a higher percentage. Oklahoma City shot just 17-of-36 (47.2 percent) in the paint and 4-for-18 (22.2 percent) in fast break situations. Those types of shots are the lifeblood or healthy Thunder offense, but despite taking plenty of those looks, and only 12 non-paint two’s in the game, the Thunder couldn’t convert, shooting 37.5 percent on the night.

“We had some wide open threes that we didn’t convert, we could have did a better job in the open court in transition, converting those play,” Anthony explained. “Our energy was there, the competitiveness was there. We competed. It comes down to making plays at the end and making shots.”

Despite falling behind by as many as 9 points in the first half, the Thunder kept sticking with it, maintaining a driving, attacking style and a tough defensive presence. It was an extremely physical game, featuring a combined 63 free throw attempts, but the Thunder’s defense mostly held as Washington shot just 38.2 percent from the field and 16-for-38 in the paint.

The relentless attacking by Westbrook, though he shot just two free throws, and Anthony and Paul George helped keep the scoreboard moving for the Thunder. Anthony scored 19 points despite shooting 2-for-12 on three-pointers because he kept attacking mismatches on the bounce, as did George. The Thunder’s do-it-all forward notched 28 points on 8-for-14 shooting and an 8-for-10 mark at the free throw line.

None of George’s points came in the fourth quarter, partly as a result of him seeing extended minutes through the third and start of the fourth, as he played just 5:52 of the final frame. The other aspect was some poor execution by the Thunder, and Washington denying George the ball.

“We talked about that, me, (George) and Russ after the game today and everybody seems to be on the same page and understands what we have to do in order to win games,” Anthony reported.

“That’s my bad. I take ownership in that, and take ownership in our loss tonight,” Westbrook offered. “I gotta do a better job of making sure I’m making the game easy for Paul and finding him and getting him a basket.”

Highlights: Thunder at Wizards

By the Numbers

8-for-14 – Shooting numbers for Paul George on his way to 28 points, a game-high

21 – Turnovers by the Thunder on the night, a season-high

38.2-37.5 – The shooting percentage difference in the Wizards favor during this hard fought, physical defensive slugfest

The Last Word

“What really hurt is that we didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, we turned it over 20 times and we didn’t finish on the fast break and we didn’t finish in the paint.” - Head Coach Billy Donovan