Game Recap: Thunder 106, Clippers 120

Despite a scrappy fight through three quarters, and a stand-out offensive performance from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort, the Thunder couldn’t overcome its slow start to the game.

Game Flow

Out of the gates, the Clippers came as advertised on 3-point shooting. In the opening frame, the league leaders in 3-point percentage went 4-of-8 from behind the arc ­– all four makes from a different player. Kawhi Leonard led the way with 11 first-quarter points. On the other end of the floor, OKC was on the complete opposite end of the spectrum as the group went 0-of-12 from deep to start the game.

OKC regrouped to start the second quarter starting with a spark on the offensive end from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The Toronto-native finished the game with a team-high 30 points, 12 of which he scored in the second frame alone after going a perfect 5-of-5 from the field including 2-of-2 from the 3-point line. As the Clippers switched defenders out of ball screens, SGA methodically attacked the rim with an array of hard-earned finishes at the rim.

“He kind of played in the flow of the team and in the flow of the offense and still found ways to attack and when there were two on him, he sprayed it out,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “He played really well tonight offensively.”

This offensive boost was enough to mitigate the continued attack of the Clippers spearheaded by Paul George in the second frame who put up 10 points on 4-of-5 from the field. George would finish the game with 29 points, trailing only Leonard who posted a game-high 31.

The Thunder’s rhythm continued into the third stanza, this time its defense working to limit the Clippers who were shooting 43 percent from behind the arc to just 1-of-10 in the third frame. The Clippers average the most third quarter points in the league and hold a league-leading +5 scoring margin as well. OKC not only outscored L.A. by four but held the Clippers to its lowest third quarter score of the season with 21 points.

“We just played a little bit harder,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “Tried to make the next play defensively, tried to make it tough. Obviously, they’re a talented group, they make shots but our job every night is to make the team that we play against uncomfortable and make their life a little bit harder.”

It was second-year guard Lu Dort who paced the Thunder offense out of the half. His teammate and fellow Canadian, Gilgeous-Alexander pulled him aside before going back onto the floor and encouraged him, despite scoring just four points in the first two frames, to remain aggressive offensively. In the third quarter, Dort scored 11 points by way of a 3-of-4 performance from the 3-point line on the way to 19 total points. Behind the effort, OKC managed to scrape the ominous 27-point lead down to just 10 in the frame.

“Lu was aggressive. I told him coming out of halftime to still be assertive,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “When he’s in that mode, we’re at our best…we need Lu aggressive every night.”

Decisive Moments

Despite the Thunder’s scrap and fight to cut down the deficit throughout the second, third and fourth quarters, it was the 18-point hole dug in the first quarter and the 27-point L.A. lead midway through the second that proved to be too large for the Thunder to overcome throughout the game.

“We had a hard time getting into the game there. I thought we had a lot of breakdowns in the first quarter obviously and they were the aggressors, but I thought we really helped them out,” said Daigneault. “We gave them a lot of pretty clean plays and once we get the game under control, I thought we played pretty well.”

After the first quarter where L.A. outscored OKC 36-18, the Thunder outpaced the Clippers by four points throughout the final three quarters. An increase in offensive execution and a honed-in defensive effort put the Thunder in comeback territory, but ultimately wouldn’t be enough to close the gap completely.

“They obviously have firepower, but I was really happy with the way we stood up tonight. It was kind of a landslide there early in the game. We were down 27 at one point early and we didn't lay down,” said Daigneault. “We kept playing and more importantly I thought we started executing. That's part of it. It's not always an effort thing sometimes it's that you gotta get the execution right and I thought we course corrected that and played pretty well after that first little flurry.”

Play of the Game

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander averages 10.3 points in the paint per night and on Friday night, 18 of his 30 points came from inside the lane. In the fourth quarter, the third-year guard dazzled with a series of back-to-back, ultra-crafty plays to get to the rim. In the second play, SGA put on a series of moves against Marcus Morris Sr. who toiled to keep the rising star in front of him. A cross over at the free-throw line gave Gilgeous-Alexander the small sliver of daylight he needed to sneak past Morris for a layup at the basket.

“He's a worker and he invests the time and the energy that goes into preparing his body and his mind to play,” said Daigneault. “I think his ability to kind of go out there and play 48 minutes and play the way he did is a testament to his preparation.”

“I just try to be aggressive and make the right basketball play,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “Whether that be getting in the paint to score or getting in the paint to pass, I just really try to be aggressive for my teammates.”

Stat of the Night14

The free throw disparity played a major role throughout the game for the Thunder. L.A. made 14 more free throws than the Thunder who shot just 10-of-13 compared to the Clippers 24-of-25. It’s an area that the Thunder will look to shore up in its rematch with the Clippers on Sunday afternoon. “Obviously they're really talented team, they can put you into some tough spots defensively,” said Thunder center Mike Muscala. “But we'll watch the film, and we'll try to get those things adjusted.”

Quotes of the NightLu Dort

“It's a 48-minute game and we've got to play the whole game. We're going to have some ups and downs and at the end of the day we just can't give up. We have to just competing and playing hard and that's what we did."

-Lu Dort “We’ve taken small steps forward when we’ve played a similar opponent in a short turnaround. That’s our challenge again on Sunday is to learn the lessons from this game and carry them into Sunday and see if we can throw a better punch.”

–Coach Daigneault

Looking Ahead

As a group that values every opportunity to learn and grow, the Thunder will make the most of its second swing at the Clippers on Sunday. The squad work to extract the lessons from Friday’s game and apply them in real time against the group in a matinee matchup at 3 p.m. CT.