Composure in the Clutch,
Thunder Evens the Series
Game Recap: Thunder 116, Heat 115
In the Thunder’s penultimate test before the postseason, the Thunder were presented with a unique challenge in Miami. The game flow undulated in massive runs for both teams but came down to the final minute and was decided by both teams’ second units.
It was a wild game of runs for the Thunder on Wednesday. Miami took commanding lead in the first quarter behind an electric shooting performance by Duncan Robinson who went 5-of-5 from the field and 4-of-4 from the 3-point line. Two of his attempts resulted in four-point plays from Thunder fouls. His early 16 points bolstered Miami’s lead to 42-29 after the first quarter.
“There are certain things you have to do against Miami,” said Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan. “You’ve got to be able to chase them around, you’ve got to be able to challenge threes. I thought we got lost quite a bit in the first half, I thought we fouled too much.”
Learning from the first quarter, OKC looked to double down on its 3-point defense and work to contain Miami without fouling. Coach Donovan’s squad responded with a resounding 12-0 run out of the break thanks to the offensive injection from behind the arc by Abdel Nader who knocked down a pair of 3-pointers during the run in a foreshadowing of what would come for the Thunder later in the game.
Nader’s spark of offense got the ball rolling for the Thunder and particularly Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who cashed in 12 points in the second quarter alone. By halftime, the Thunder trailed by only four points with a chance to take control in the second half after a reset.
However, Miami began to heat up from beyond the arc in the third quarter. This time it was Tyler Herro who exploded for 11 points in the third frame with a pair of made 3-pointers and four extra buckets at the foul line. The Thunder’s offense struggled to keep up on the other end as Miami switched up looks defensively with a zone and even a sporadic trap on the ball handler. By the end of the third quarter, the game looked to be all but written in stone as Miami took a commanding lead for the second time in the game.
In the fourth quarter, the Thunder’s deficit amassed to a staggering 22 points with just over 10 minutes left to play. Both Miami and the Thunder pulled their starters from the floor and employed their second units. In that second unit for the Thunder was red-hot rookie Darius Bazley who exploded for 16 points in the fourth quarter including four much-needed, momentum altering 3-pointers to bring his team out of the offensive rut it was in.
“We gotta support each other. We’re a team and with the young team that we have, those minutes are precious. Those guys getting to play in those types of situations with the game on the line,” said Thunder guard Chris Paul.
“They just turned up the intensity a little bit. I went out on there on the court and just tried to tell them to make the guys feel us. You gotta compete. You can’t just let guys go wherever they want to go. I think guys did that. They shared the ball and it was fun to see. It was exciting.”
Play of the Game
In the midst of the Thunder’s emphatic comeback in the fourth quarter, the Thunder pulled the game to within one point on multiple occasions. The lineup of Mike Muscala, Devon Hall, Darius Bazley, Terrance Ferguson and Abdel Nader oozed with competitive fire as the time ticked away on the game clock. After tying the game to 113 with a three pointer from Mike Muscala, Miami responded on the other end with a strong, physical drive from Solomon Hill with 11
Billy Donovan called a timeout to draw up a play. On the inbounds, Darius Bazley, who had already recorded 16 points in the fourth quarter and established himself as a worthy threat to the Heat, drove into the lane and drew two defenders. Bazley remained composed and skipped the ball out to a wide-open Mike Muscala who knocked down his second 3-pointer of the night with five seconds remaining to give the Thunder a one-point lead, its first since the first quarter.
“I’ve got a great deal of respect for Mike Muscala just because he’s a total pro and keeps himself ready,” said Donovan. “Whenever he’s called upon you know you’re going to get a very, very reliable guy. A lot of those second unit guys did a nice job and I think they all learned something from the first half that I think carried over into the second half.”
Stat of the Night22
After overcoming a looming 22-point deficit, the Thunder, who is no stranger to comeback victories, recorded its third comeback this season of 20 points or more. No other team in the league has more than one. It also marked the Thunder’s 17th win this season when trailing after three quarters– no other team has more than nine.
“It just means that we have a real special group,” said Nader about his team’s resiliency throughout the game. “Real cohesiveness and even though they switched some of the lineups they still had some really good players on the floor and so did we.”
Quotes of the Night
“We’re just trying to get better. We’re trying to get better. It’s nice to know that we’ve got our playoff seed locked up…So we’re just going to keep grinding and keep hooping.” –Chris Paul
“It just means that we have a real special group. Real cohesiveness and even though they switched some of the lineups they still had some really good players on the floor and so did we.” –Abdel Nader
The Thunder will face the Clippers on Friday in the last of its eight regular-season games. With its victory tonight and the Rocket’s loss, the Thunder have secured a first-round playoff opponent in the Houston Rockets to begin next week and depending on results of Friday’s games could finish either fourth or fifth in the standings.