Game Recap: Thunder 127, Bulls 125 (OT)

Chicago led by as many as 22 points while shooting a hyper-efficient 50 percent from the 3-point line throughout the game. Even then, the Thunder searched within itself to generate winning energy and refused to go down without a fight.

Game Flow

The players sitting in the Thunder locker room at halftime didn’t need a rah-rah pump-up speech from Coach Daigneault as motivation to pick up the energy. The first half was filled with enough examples that the effort wasn’t enough. Chicago shot a scorching 55 percent from the field and the 3-point line. Zach LaVine, fresh off a 45-point performance, had already racked up 14 in the first half and was surrounded by three of his teammates who also cashed in double-digit scoring.

In that locker room, the Thunder made a choice that they wouldn’t let go of the rope and the next two quarters would be an entirely different picture than the first two.

“We spoke to each other halftime. Didn't like the way he played in the first half on both ends of the floor and we just told ourselves that we were just going to take it possession by possession and not worry about anything else,” said Shai Gilgeou-Alexander. “Just play hard on both ends, play the right way.”

That was the spark.

The Thunder mounted a massive third-quarter run to close the gap to arm’s reach. OKC forced nine turnovers by Chicago and got a massive contribution from Lu Dort on both ends of the floor. The second-year guard posted 15 points while snatching away three steals to ignite the Thunder’s path to a comeback. By the end of the night, the Thunder’s defensive juggernaut would finish with a career-high six steals to go along with 21 points.

“Really tried to make it hard on their best players,” said Dort. “They have pretty good scorers, and they had the ball, most of the time so really applying pressure on them. I felt like we did a good job as a team.”

It was a 13-0 Thunder run spearheaded by Dort that suddenly ballooned to 18-3. A dunk by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with three minutes remaining in the stanza brought the Thunder to a two-point margin after trailing by as many as 22 early in the third.

Chicago shook off the sting of the Thunder’s run and began to pick back up its offensive rhythm in order to maintain its fragile lead.

After going plus-10 in the third quarter, the Thunder’s energy hummed at a fever pitch. Feeding off of that energy, the Thunder’s crafty third-year guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander muscled his way into the paint while juxtaposing the powerful attacks with soft, precise finishes at the rim.

“He just stuck with it. He was really, really relentless tonight especially in the second half he was hungry on every single possession,” said Daigneault. “He continues to take these steps forward and take responsibility for not only how he's playing, but how we're playing and I thought it was another example of that.”

The final two points of SGA’s 12-point quarter were undoubtedly the most consequential. Down by three points with just 25 seconds left in regulation, Gilgeous-Alexander made a quick spin move in the paint and elevated as Coby White tried to recover his defensive position. With hang-time, Gilgeous-Alexander banked in the short jumper while taking on the contact from White. The ball dropped through the cylinder, the referee signaled for a foul and the Thunder’s rising star would tie the game at 118 after his made free throw. By the end of the night, Gilgeous-Alexander would record a new career-high with 33 points in a regular season game.

“I just wanted to be aggressive and make the right basketball play. Give our team, a chance to win,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “A couple of times they stepped up and guys were open. A couple of times they stayed and I was able to get my shot off. Whatever it was, I just wanted to make the right basketball play.”

Decisive Moments

If there was a time for the Bulls to cool off in Friday’s matchup, it was in overtime. The Thunder took its first lead of the game since the first quarter with a 3-pointer from Muscala who went 0-for-4 in regulation.

It would be Muscala once again to knock down a deep 3-pointer on a pick-and-pop with Gilgeous-Alexander to send the lead up to four points with less than a minute to go.

“Just trying to stay ready to shoot, stay confident,” said Muscala. “When my big was helping a little bit, just tried to be ready, stay confident and shot one shot at a time.”

With 15 seconds left in the ball game, Chicago called a timeout down 122-126. On the inbounds, the first option to Coby White was swallowed up by the Thunder’s defense but found LaVine in the corner for his eighth 3-pointer of the night to bring the game to one point. The Bulls were forced to foul George Hill on the inbounds pass who was rewarded with free throws on the other end. After sinking one of two, the Bulls had an opportunity to answer on the opposite end, but they would have to do it without a timeout call.

LaVine, who was 8-of-13 from the 3-point line at that point in the game, got a relatively decent look from the top of the key, but the ball would bounce off the cylinder at the buzzer and the Thunder would hang on to win its sixth game of the season.

“I thought we gave ourselves a chance. There's no guarantee you're going to win when you continue to compete, but if you continue to compete you give yourself a chance,” said Daigneault. “The approach is what we're most proud of tonight. It was a huge step forward for us. It was huge progress. Even if we lost the game, if the last shot goes in, I’d feel the same way.”

Play of the Game

A major aspect of Dort’s effectiveness in the third quarter came in the activity on the defensive end and the sheer hustle to make plays. Nowhere was that demonstrated more than at a pivotal juncture in the fourth quarter with a left minute to go when Zach LaVine briefly lost the ball Dort, who wasn’t even guarding LaVine on the play, sprinted over and launched himself onto the loose ball to secure the steal. These sorts of plays are what helped to generate the palpable energy inside of Chesapeake Energy Arena on Friday.

“That's what I expect,” said Gilgeous-Alexander on Dort’s defensive energy. “He brings it every night. That's one of the things that he hangs his hat on and makes him the player he is. It doesn't come as a surprise to me or anyone else. He makes winning plays all the time.”

Stat of the Night22

With the 22-point comeback over Chicago, the Thunder tied for the fifth-largest comeback win in OKC history. Coincidentally, the largest Thunder comeback on record was last season, against the Bulls where the Thunder trailed by as many as 26. The Thunder organization prides itself on sustaining a culture of resilience.

“We're not trying to build a resilient culture, we're trying to continue a resilient culture,” said Daigneault. “Resilient culture has existed here for a long period of time. Ever since the team came here there's been a resilient basketball culture.”

Quotes of the Night

“It was a special win tonight and I’m just proud of how our team fought.”

–Mike Muscala “I thought our relentless spirit in the game was what stood out. Even if we didn't win it, we stood back up tonight which was progress for us. It was a really good response by the guys, and it came from inside of them.”

–Coach Daigneault

Looking Ahead

The Thunder will practice on Saturday before returning to Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday for its final matchup of its homestand against the 76ers. From there, the squad will take off on another five-game road trip starting in Denver on Tuesday.