Game Recap: Thunder 108, Heat 115
The Thunder operated at a deficit the entire contest after getting outscored by Miami 40-26 in the first quarter. When Miami went to a zone, the Thunder’s offense sputtered making it that much tougher to put together a forceful comeback.
For the second straight game, the Thunder withstood another devastating blow in the first quarter, this time from Miami. After giving up 40 points in the opening frame, the Thunder dug in on defense and picked up the aggression on offense. For every ounce of momentum the Thunder built, Miami squashed it with a run of its own.
The Thunder’s first seven points on the board came from center, Nerlens Noel within 90 seconds of playing time. Those seven points included a 3-pointer (the second of his career) and a dunk off of an alley-oop from Chris Paul. This pushed the Thunder to an early 10-7 lead, its largest lead of the night, and the last.
First 3 point attempt of the season. pic.twitter.com/C1W6Q9wbuW— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 18, 2020
The first quarter belonged to the Heat as a result of another slow start for OKC defensively. Miami shot out of the gates white hot form the 3-point line shooting six of seven from behind the arc and 65 percent from the field. Meanwhile, the Thunder wasn’t putting up bad numbers offensively either with 45 percent from the field and 50 percent from three, the issue was on the defensive end.
“In the first half, we have some breakdowns, we give up too many points, it’s too easy, there’s not enough resistance for us defensively. We could have more resistance out there,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan. “I think that a lot of times the other teams defense is a little bit more aggressive than our offense is and then as the game goes on we slowly start to switch it the other way. We have to be able to do that from the beginning.”
In attempt to further stagnate the Thunder offense, Miami went to a zone throughout the first half baiting OKC to shoot threes. Initially, the Thunder knocked down a couple of triples created by getting into the teeth of the zone. Aggressive drives and post-ups caused the defense to collapse for wide open looks from shooters behind the arc.
Then, the production stalled. The threes continued to fly for OKC, but they stopped falling at the same clip. In the second quarter, OKC went four of 13 from deep but fortunately, the Heat lost its luster from behind the arc as well only knocking down two of nine. As a result, the teams both put up 21 points in the second frame and the Thunder went into the half trailing 14.
As a result of the zone, Miami eliminated Thunder guard’s bread and butter – the midrange jumper. The first attempt that wasn’t from behind the arc or in the lane came in the third quarter from Chris Paul. That bucket was immediately followed by a timeout call from Erik Spoelstra. The Thunder shoot at one of the highest clips from the midrange but were forced to take shots behind the line for the majority of the game.
Even after bringing it to within eight points in the fourth quarter behind aggressive drives and a barrage of 3-point buckets from Gallinari, Miami had an answer and eliminated any shot of a Thunder comeback.
“I think what is happening to us is we’re responding to the game instead of trying to dictate the game,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan. “We’re responding to other teams and it’s very, very hard to be the aggressor when you’re constantly responding.”
Gallinari knocked down a pair of free throws to cut the game to eight points and extend his team’s run to 17-3 with 4:07 remaining in the game. Miami called a timeout to quell the momentum and draw up a scheme to rev its own offense back up. The result of that play was a floater from Kendrick Nunn who finished the game with a team-high 22 points. Time was still on OKC’s side and with two minutes remaining, Chris Paul knocked down a triple to bring the margin to seven points.
A miss from Goran Dragic on the other end opened up the door for the Thunder to potentially bring the game to two possessions with a minute and a half left on the clock. A missed 3-pointer from Schröder and a layup form Jimmy Butler put a nine-point buffer between Miami and OKC with less than a minute on the clock and the game in the freezer.
Play of the Game
Dennis Schröder consistently found ways to get into the heart of the zone and open up his teammates on the perimeter throughout the night. In this instance, he attacked deep into the paint, forcing the bottom defenders of the two-three zone to help up in the very likely chance that Schröder tossed up a floater. Instead, just out of peripheral view, Hamidou Diallo snuck in behind the defense for an easy drop pass from Schröder. The reigning NBA Dunk Champion took a quick two steps, loading up for a monstrous one-handed jam over Kelly Olynyk who was just a step too late to offer a deterring contest.
“That felt great. Especially for me, I’ve been trying to get back in the groove ever since I’ve been back and I haven’t had a play like that in a long time,” said Diallo. “That felt great and I feel like that boosted the energy up a little bit and that’s the type of player I need to be for this team.”
Stat of the Night18
3-point attempts - The Heat lead the league in opponent 3-point attempts per game while also holding opponents to one of the lowest shooting percentages. Using the combination of zone defense plus its size and length, Miami tempts its opponents with what look like high-quality looks from deep, but also have the ability to contest each shot making it hard for teams to get in an offensive rhythm.
Because of this, the Thunder notched a season-high in both 3-point attempts and 3-pointers made shooting 18 of 46. Danilo Gallinari led the Thunder in the 3-point department with a new career-high seven triples on the evening.
“They were basically selling out for us to shoot a basketball and at some point against them you do have to make some perimeter shots and we certainly made a little bit more in the second half and we played with a little more depth in the second half,” said Donovan.
Quotes of the Night
I think most teams are going to start playing a zone like that. We got to figure out ways to shoot a lot of it and attack it, but even aside from attacking them defensively, we got to be better, and I got to be better. We gave up some backdoors, some threes, some rebounds, and we got to get off to better starts.” -Chris Paul
"They were hitting us first. We are at our best when we are hitting first, and when we are on defense, dictating what they are going to do. I feel like tonight we let them dictate what they wanted to do, and that’s not how we are taught, and that’s not the type of defensive team that we are.” –Hamidou Diallo
The Thunder have little time to dwell as its next test approaches in less than 24 hours with Portland on Saturday for the second half of a home back-to-back. That matchup will wrap up a three-game homestand and the squad will head to Houston for a tilt against the Rockets on Monday.