Composure in the Clutch,
Thunder Evens the Series
Game Recap: Thunder 103, Clippers 107
In OKC’s final matchup before the postseason, Coach Donovan used the opportunity to reacclimate Dennis Schröder into the lineup and rest his high-minute players before rolling into the postseason and the first round of the playoffs. Even then, the Thunder reserves put up 70 points to push their final regular season game into overtime.
Neither the Thunder nor the Clippers instituted their usual starting lineups in Friday’s game instead opting for rest going into the playoffs. For OKC, although the squad was without Luguentz Dort (sprained knee) and Chris Paul (thumb sprain), the Thunder welcomed its Sixth Man of the Year contender Dennis Schröder back into the lineup after missing the previous six games for the birth of his second child.
“It’s great to have Dennis back. He’s a great point guard, great leader and we missed him,” said Diallo. “He brings that energy and he brings that defensive mentality to the second unit and everybody knows he scores with the best of them so it’s great to have him back.”
Schröder started the game alongside Terrance Ferguson, Steven Adams, Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. On the other side of the ball, the Clippers sat their star-studded backcourt of Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Patrick Beverly and replaced them with Amir Coffee, JaMychal Green and Rodney McGruder.
In the first quarter, it was Gilgeous-Alexander who led the charge for the Thunder’s offense with a hard-earned 11 points. With several crafty, physical drives to the rim, SGA foreshadowed how the Thunder guards would earn their buckets throughout this game against the Clippers– with tough drives to the rim.
In the second, Schröder took the reins offensively with 11 points of his own. After not taking a single 3-pointer in the first quarter, the Thunder’s sixth man went 3-for-3 and finished the half with 17 points.
At the end of Q1, it's been the Shai and Schröder show.— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) August 14, 2020
SGA has 11. Dennis adds 6. pic.twitter.com/rYU8j9AG0k
“I thought he played really well. I felt like he had a pretty good rhythm just the flow of the way we were playing inside of what we wanted to do. So that was good to see,” said Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan. “I felt like he got some really good work in tonight and I thought he looked and played well.”
Going into the half, thanks to the combined 30 points between Gilgeous-Alexander and Schröder, the Thunder held on to a comfortable 10-point lead and decent control of the game. In the second half, Coach Donovan didn’t return Gilgeous-Alexander, Adams or Gallinari back into the lineup and instead gave Schröder the opportunity to lead the Thunder’s second unit to start the half.
The Clippers offense began to fire on all cylinders in the third quarter while OKC struggled to maintain its rhythm offensively. A 13-0 run by the Clippers suddenly flipped the narrative of the game. Despite some incredible defensive efforts by Mike Muscala, Darius Bazley and Diallo, the Clippers outscored the Thunder 33-16 in the third quarter. OKC needed an offensive spark to keep the game alive, and Hamidou Diallo lit the match.
What started with a coast-to-coast finish by Diallo to close the third quarter, quickly turned into an OKC 15-2 run thanks to 10 straight points from the former NBA dunk champion. That effort brought the Thunder deficit back to one possession midway through the fourth quarter.
The Thunder and the Clippers traded buckets for the remainder of the quarter before the game finally knotted up at 87 with 5 seconds remaining and the Thunder retained possession. After a timeout and a well-executed inbounds play, Deonte Burton caught the ball at the top of the key and got off a clean look that missed the mark as the buzzer sounded. The Thunder’s march to the postseason would be postponed for another five minutes.
In overtime, it was Terrance Mann and Hamidou Diallo who did most of the heavy lifting for their respective reams. Mann cashed in nine points in five minutes thanks to four extra points from the free throw line. On the other end, Diallo added in six points while Devon Hall chipped in another five for the Thunder. It wouldn’t be enough as the Clippers outscored 20-16 in overtime.
From their performances on both Wednesday and Friday, Coach Donovan liked what he saw from his reserves and role players. For the second straight game, they’ve come on the floor ready to play and brought competitive energy to bring both matchups down to the final seconds.
“I give our young guys and guys coming off the bench a lot of credit, they’ve stayed really engaged, they’ve worked really hard during this period of time and it’s great to see them rewarded with this significant playing time and they did a good job while they were out there,” said Donovan. “Everybody knows that they’ve got to remain ready to contribute when called upon and that could be at any point in time. Those guys have done a really, really good job and I feel like over the time here in Orlando, they’ve gotten better.”
Play of the Game
In the midst of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s first-quarter clinic, he showcased the moves that make him such a tough offensive player to guard. In this play, he uses a euro step that spans the entire width of the paint to maneuver around Joakim Noah. Even then, the rising star takes on contact and somehow finishes the play for an and-one.
Stat of the Night27/11
As Hamidou Diallo rose out of his seat following his post-game media press conference, those in attendance could hear a voice booming in the distance, “Twenty-seven and 11, bro? That’s tough!”
It was the voice of the Thunder’s well-known hype man in Dennis Schröder who celebrated with the Thunder’s second-year guard after his career-high night of 27 points and 11 rebounds while playing 40 minutes of basketball. Diallo displayed new areas of his game with confident strokes from behind the arc where he went 4-for-8 and also showcasing his aggressive, athletic drives to finish at the rim.
“I just went out there, I played the game and shots fell,” explained Diallo. “This is what I worked on. I just gotta keep working, stay humble, don’t get too high, don’t get too low and just keep staying at it.”
His electric scoring night helped the Thunder reserves as a whole to notch a historic, record-breaking 70 points– the most in Thunder history.
“I think Hami had a lot to do with us playing faster and attacking and getting to the paint. Obviously, we had our opportunities in regulation and he made a couple of big threes, but I thought he played well and made some good decisions,” said Coach Donovan. “He played with a lot of energy and played very, very explosive.
Quotes of the Night
“Even though we came up a little bit short, I thought we played really, really well… They did some good things. We had some really good looks, we didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, we had some good looks but it’s good to see those guys evolve and develop.” –Coach Donovan
“It was the last game, so it’s go time now.” –Dennis Schöder
Friday’s matchup put a bow on the Thunder’s 2019-20 regular season and the squad now begins its long-awaited playoff run. The Thunder’s loss on Friday solidified its position in the fifth seed and will face the first the fourth-seeded Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs to begin on Tuesday.