The Thunder trailed by as many as 12 points in its matchup against Memphis. It took a stellar 3-point shooting performance, a stand-out game by Aleksej Pokuševski and contributions from every player on the floor for the Thunder to mount the fifth largest comeback of the season.
Both teams shot the ball particularly well throughout the game on Sunday afternoon as they both fired at a clip of over 50 percent. However, through the first three quarters, it was Memphis who profited the most as the Grizzlies scored 30 or more points in all three frames. At the end of the first quarter, the Thunder trailed by three points to a Memphis team who was shooting 65 percent from the field—partially due to the fact that 22 of its 31 points came from inside the paint. On the other end of the floor, the Thunder’s offense earned major contributions from the free throw line where it went a perfect 10-for-10 while holding Memphis to zero attempts, and zero second-chance points.
The Thunder’s second unit, instituting its well-known next man up mentality, not only gave the Thunder solid minutes but built up a lead as large as seven points. It was Kenrich Williams who lit the match with a pair of back-to-back buckets to get the ball rolling, Then Mike Muscala chipped in five points of his own. By the end of the night, the Thunder’s second unit racked up 46 points with three players scoring in double-figures for the second-consecutive night.
Memphis went on a large run in the second quarter which correlated directly with the eight turnovers committed by the Thunder. Memphis, who leads the league in turnovers forced per game, translated those miscues into 14 points on the other end of the floor. The Thunder’s seven-point lead suddenly turned into a seven-point deficit going into intermission.
After trailing by as many as 12 points, the Thunder went on a 14-6 run sparked by the 3-point shooting of Aleksej Pokuševski. The Thunder rattled off five consecutive 3-pointers and had suddenly cut the Grizzlies lead down to just two points.
“We just kind of played through it,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “Got a couple stops, turned the game a little bit and got the game back under control.”
Despite the Thunder and the Grizzlies combining for 75 points in the third quarter, Memphis led by 10 going into the fourth. The deficit meant little to the Thunder and its 48-minute mentality. There were still 12 minutes of game time left on the clock and the Thunder had every intention of playing its hardest.
Coach Daigneault started the fourth quarter with the lineup of Pokuševski, Isaiah Roby, Darius Miller, Mike Muscala and Kenrich Williams – effectively making Pokuševski the primary ball handler. The group opened up the quarter with a barrage of 3-pointers including a 4-point play by Darius Miller to bring the game to within two points yet again.
As the default point guard, Pokuševski led the charge in initiating and organizing the offense. Even with a lineup full of forwards, the ball moved with tremendous pace and found the open hand on nearly each possession.
“That group to start the fourth quarter stabilized the game again for us,” said Daigneault. “All five of them were playmaking.”
The Thunder’s onslaught of 3-point shooting continued through the quarter. It was a 3-pointer by Pokuševski with just under six minutes to play that gave the Thunder its first lead since the second quarter. In the very next possession, the ball found Miller once again behind the 3-point line where he sank another triple to extend the lead.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander got in on the action with a pair of late-game 3-pointers to add to his game-high 30-point total. However, Memphis seemed to answer each of the Thunder’s eye-catching triples with a bucket of their own on the other end. While the Thunder shot a season-high 51 percent from the 3-point line, it wasn’t until it was able to string together multiple stops on the defensive end, that its lead – and ultimately its win– was secured.
“We just dug in,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “We were in the passing lanes, making them take tough shots, contested twos, nothing easy at the rim and contesting 3s.”
“Getting stops was the most important thing,” said Kenrich Williams. “Defensively you can’t trade baskets in this league so in the fourth quarter, we started getting stops and shots started falling for us.”
Play of the Game
The Thunder may have been without four of its starters on Sunday, but none of that affected its ability to play to its identity at a high level in terms of ball movement and selfless play. For example, as Memphis worked feverishly to get the ball out of Gilgeous-Alexander’s hands, the third-year guard dished the ball inside to Isaiah Roby who initially looked to be open.
On his catch, Roby attracted the Grizzlies’ weak-side help defender to deter his look. Roby zipped the ball back out to the perimeter to sharp-shooter Ty Jerome. However, instead of firing off a semi-contested 3-pointer, Jerome snapped the ball back into the post to Roby who was suddenly all alone under the rim after Memphis scrambled to contest Jerome’s look.
Stat of the Night23
It was a career night for the Thunder’s 19-year-old rookie in Aleksej Pokuševski. His 23 points and 11 rebounds put him in pretty exclusive territory at just 19 years old. That stat line made him the youngest player in Thunder history to score 20 or more points as well as the third.
His five 3-pointers also made him the second-youngest player in NBA history to accomplish the feat, putting him behind only LeBron James.
“Poku was huge tonight,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “Not only his shot making, but all in all he looks so much more comfortable out there.”
“My teammates believe in me,” said Pokuševski in his postgame interview with FOX Sports Oklahoma. “When you have teammates like that, everything is great.”
Quotes of the Night
“We're a team that's relentless, no matter what's going on… we have guys that know how to play the right way and at all times we step on a court we're going to do so and that allowed us to get back in the game.”-Shai Gilgeous-Alexander “It really shows our resilience, how we’re able to have a next-man up mentality and playing together. We’re definitely going to enjoy this one and get ready for this road trip.”
The Thunder have a day to rest on Monday before heading out to the East Coast for its first road trip of the second half of the season. The squad will begin with a tilt against the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday followed by a matchup in Atlanta to take on the Hawks on Thursday.