Game Recap: Thunder 126, Grizzlies 122
For the second straight game, the Thunder pulled off the improbable. Piloted by an inspiring off-the bench performance from Dennis Schröder and a defensive surge in the second half, the Thunder rallied for a victory defying the odds coming back from an imposing 24 point deficit.
If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you play good. That was the formula the Thunder tested out on Wednesday night as each player sported a brand-new custom-tailored suit courtesy of Chris Paul on their walk into the building.
In the first half however, it was the Grizzlies who were feeling the mojo. Memphis controlled a steady lead throughout the first quarter and into the second while the Thunder struggled from behind the arc going 0-5 in the first quarter. Nevertheless, the Thunder stayed close and kept the Grizzlies’ lead within arm’s reach. However, the Grizzlies broke loose in the second quarter for a 19-7 run. Behind 11 points from Ja Morant and six 3-pointers from the Grizzlies, Memphis went into the half with a 68-59 lead.
“We didn’t get off to a very good start,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan. “I give our guys a lot of credit for hanging in there. The first half was a struggle, more defensively than offensively. Even though we scored 59 points, I didn’t think we played like we were capable of.”
Out of the half, the Grizzlies picked up where they left of going for 10 unanswered points on the way to building up what seemed like a secure 24-point lead with 7 minutes remaining in the third quarter. Guided by Morant, the Grizzlies were the conductors of the tempo in the half.
However, they were facing the same Thunder squad who overcame a 26-point margin only two days prior. Suddenly the floor began to tilt in the Thunder’s direction. the metaphorical lid on the rim lifted and the Thunder found some spark on the offensive side of the ball ignited by extra vigor on the defensive end. Disciplined play of Thunder bigs caused disruption throughout Memphis’s offense.
“You have to give our bigs a lot of credit there because they were really getting the ball contained, they were disruptive, they were active with their hands and they generated some deflections and created some steals,” said Donovan.
Dennis Schröder injected the Thunder with some much-needed energy off the bench. Fueled by 10 third quarter points, the Thunder sixth man helped the Thunder on both ends of the floor bringing momentum back in OKC’s direction.
“He has done a lot of great things. He is not only scoring, he is defending real well,” said Donovan. “I thought his competitive spirit when we were down the way we were and the way he came out there trying to lift up those guys and inspire them was great, but he has an incredible competitive spirit about himself.
Fueled by momentum, the Thunder took control of the tempo. Going into the fourth only down seven points, OKC quickly chipped away at the Grizzlies’ lead. Within three minutes, the deficit shrank to one point and the Thunder had regained command of the game.
Dennis Dunk pic.twitter.com/GjcS8qYNYk— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) December 19, 2019
After seven ties and five lead changes in the fourth quarter, the score was tied at 120 with one minute remaining. Chris Paul calmly advanced off of two high ball screens from Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams and rattled home an easy midrange jumper to take the lead with 53 seconds remaining.
The decisive moment, however, came two possessions later. Morant missed an opportunity to tie the game following Paul’s jumper and the Thunder looked to dribble out the time on the clock but a steal from Jae Crowder gave the Grizzlies a redeeming opportunity.
After a Memphis timeout to set up a play, the ball came inbounds to Brandon Clarke who quickly handed it off to a slicing Morant at the 3-point line. Morant had the initial advantage but was quickly stalled in the lane by Thunder paint protector, Steven Adams who stayed disciplined keeping his feet on the floor, hands in the air and his body square to the 6-foot-3 point guard. With no options, Morant flicked up a shot while falling to the ground. The ball bounced off the rim into the Thunder’s hands. Memphis was forced to foul and after two made free throws from Schröder, the Thunder’s lead was never challenged again.
Play of the Game
The Thunder found some much-needed momentum to close out the third quarter. The energy mounted in the final seconds when Steven Adams found Abdel Nader in the corner for a three with 2.4 seconds remaining the quarter. The Grizzlies had a chance to answer, or so they thought. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was heading back on defense when he saw the ball coming in his direction. He intercepted the pass and, seeing time left on the clock, took a dribble inside the 3-point line and floated the ball up as the horn sounded. The ball banked off the square and through the rim bringing the Thunder’s deficit to an amendable seven points.
“I don’t even know what happened,” Gilgeous-Alexander admitted. “I just saw [the ball] in front of me and went to go get it. I looked up at the clock and I had a couple seconds left and just threw something up and it happened to go in.”
That's how you close out a quarter!— FOX Sports Oklahoma (@FOXSportsOK) December 19, 2019
FOX Sports Oklahoma pic.twitter.com/gSTqJe2lvP
Stat of the Night31
The spark plug off the bench for the Thunder, Dennis Schröder erupted for 31 points in the game, tying his season high. After scoring nine points in the first quarter, Schröder went for 10 and 12 in the final two frames respectively helping to lift the Thunder over the mountainous 24-point margin. This marks the tenth consecutive game where Schröder notched over 17 points and the 11th game where he has lead all Thunder scorers.
“Dennis was inspiring tonight,” said Paul. “On a night where you don’t have all the energy, you don’t have the mojo, just sitting over there watching how hard he was playing and the energy he was playing with, it forced everybody else to get on board.”
Quotes of the Night
“It shows to the competitiveness these guys have and their desire to win. There are probably teams that get down by 24 or 26 like we were against Chicago and Memphis and just say ‘We’ll just live to fight another day,’ but these guys fight all the way through and I’ve got to give them credit.” –Coach Donovan
“That just shows you how resilient our team is and how much of a team we are. It takes everybody.” –Chris Paul
The Thunder will continue in its five-game homestand with a tilt against Phoenix on Friday and against the Clippers on Sunday. From there, the Thunder have a three-day game break for Christmas before returning home in its final match of the homestand against Memphis on the 26th.