Second Unit Sparks Efficient Offensive Night in Thunder’s Win Over Cleveland
Game Recap: Thunder 117, Cavaliers 101
On the last night of its road trip, the Thunder handed Cleveland its 10th consecutive loss after erasing the effects of a slow start. Thanks to the high-energy effort from the second unit and the impressive offensive performance of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder returns to OKC on a high note.
Against the paint-packing defensive efforts of Cleveland, the Thunder posted one of its most efficient scoring nights of the season with 117 points on just 79 shot attempts. It took the squad half of the first quarter to find its rhythm and generate consistent quality looks, but once it broke through it didn’t look back the rest of the night.
“Playing together, playing fast and really just trying to get good looks and trying to get the best shot that we can get every possession,” said Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who finished with a game-high 31 points. “That's one of the things that coach harps on is us getting the best shot that we can and playing for each other. Whether it be making a sacrificing cut or making a screen whatever it is, playing for each other.”
It was Gilgeous-Alexander who led the Thunder in scoring and played a key role in facilitating those looks against Cleveland’s packed in defense. After an uncharacteristic performance on Friday where the third-year guard recorded a pedestrian 16 points, SGA bounced back on Sunday shooting 60 percent from the field and a perfect 3-3 from the 3-point line. There have only been seven games this season where Gilgeous-Alexander has scored less than 20 points and the last three times he’s done so, he’s averaged 31 points on 59-percent shooting from the field in the very following contest.
“He looked like himself tonight,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “He played with an unbelievable pace all the way throughout. He never got sped up, never forced and found a great balance throughout the game.”
However, it was the effort of the second unit that turned the game in the Thunder’s favor on Sunday. The Cavs defense forced several early turnovers from the Thunder and a string of empty possessions that led to a 10-point lead for Cleveland it the opening quarter. However, following the second timeout of the game, the Thunder’s second unit cracked the code and not only erased the 10-point margin, but built up a 5-point lead.
The Thunder’s reserves outscored Cleveland’s second unit 29-4 in the first half powered by Hamidou Diallo who notched 12 points on a perfect 4-4 from the field. By the end of the night, Diallo led the bench unit with 15 points on 5-of-5 from the floor. The high energy and disciplined defense built the Thunder’s lead up to double digits and started the ball rolling on an efficient scoring night for OKC.
“When we're called upon, just come out there and try to do what we do which is bring energy, just try to take advantage of the other team’s bench,” said Diallo. “I feel like we have a really solid bench, so we come out on a night in and night out basis and we just try to make sure that we take care of business and try to either build a lead or try to pick the first unit up as well.”
“I thought the tone of the game changed when they came in there,” said Daigneault.
By the end of the night, the Thunder’s offense recorded three quarters of 31-point performances, six players in double figures and logged its 10th straight game of over 20 assists. Ball movement and offense generated from the inside out allowed every single player to touch the floor tonight to get involved on that side of the floor.
“That’s one of our strengths. We have a lot of players that can score and that can do multiple things and every time we take care of it we tend to have good results from it,” said Théo Maledon who finished with 14 points.
Despite building up a 10-point lead in the first quarter, the Cavs clawed its way back early in the second frame to regain a one-point lead with two free throws from Jarrett Allen. The Thunder immediately responded with six straight unanswered points that led to a 12-2 OKC run. Fueled by two-straight buckets from Isaiah Roby and a five unanswered points from Mike Muscala, once OKC regained the lead, it didn’t look back for the remainder of the game.
“The biggest thing for us is just coming out there and competing for the full 48,” said Diallo. “There are going to be up and down games and we're going to make some shots we're gonna miss some shots, but when we come out and we follow the game plan and we're just trying to execute for a full 48, I feel like we take care of business most nights.”
Play of the Game
Just like every other night, each of Shai’s nine made baskets against Cleveland were high-difficulty and highly contested. This often times results in a highlight-worthy, eyebrow-raising bucket from the third-year guard as he craftily maneuvers his way through the defense and reaches into his bag of finishes in order to generate a shot despite the coverage.
That’s exactly what happened on this play as SGA was guarded by Isaac Okoro. Gilgeous-Alexander rejected the ball screen from Al Horford and instead attacked the right side of the lane. When Collin Sexton stepped over to cut him off, SGA intelligently spun to the middle of the floor, gathered his dribble and elevated to finish with a finger roll over the front of the rim.
Stat of the Night42
The Thunder’s second unit provided the necessary jumpstart to get the offense rolling for the remaining 48 minutes. Kenrich Williams, Hamidou Diallo, Isaiah Roby and Mike Muscala injected a massive jolt of energy on both ends of the floor that led to the Thunder reserves outscoring Cleveland 42-9.
“They were huge. They brought energy, played with pace, really guarded and got out in transition,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “We've seen that from our second unit throughout the whole season. They bring it. They really try to take advantage of the other team second unit and they do a really good job of it.”
“They're just kind of gritty on the defensive end of the floor and I thought that got us out on the break a little bit and they really moved it and shared it and they kind of got the game under control for us,” said Daigneault. “From that point on, even when the starters came back in the second half I thought we were pretty consistent throughout the 48 minutes tonight after that slow start.”
Quotes of the Night
“It feels good to get a win. We lost [three] games and we were trying to turn the page. Thus game was a new game so we had the opportunity to win this one and we did it.. We’ve got to keep it going and carry the good things and apply them to the next game.”
“We can always control how much we're competing and if you do that throughout the course of a season you can live with the results. So I think last few games had some close losses and you know some things not going quite our way, but I'm proud of how we did tonight.” –Mike Muscala
Sunday’s game officially kicked off a gauntlet of basketball for the Thunder where the team will play five games in seven days. From Cleveland, the group will return to Oklahoma City for the second night of a back-to-back where it will host the defending Eastern Conference Champions in the Miami Heat at 8 p.m. CT. in Chesapeake Energy Arena.