Hustle and defense paved the way for the Thunder in its matchup against the NBA’s defending champions. The elite effort coupled with three double-double performances from Darius Bazley, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hamidou Diallo forced a 53-minute contest in order to decide a victor.
It was the third-straight game for the Thunder playing undermanned, but OKC demonstrated its no-excuses, what’s-next mentality with each game. With just eight active players going up against the reigning NBA champions, the Thunder’s mentality going into Monday’s matchup was to not let the Lakers out-compete them.
“Coach talked before the game about us competing and playing at a high level consistently. I felt like we did that tonight,” said Thunder center Al Horford. “We laid it on the line. Guys really played hard and we gave ourselves a chance to win the game.”
The Thunder’s 14-year veteran had stats to back up that claim. By the end of the night, the Thunder had forced overtime thanks to scrappy, hustle-led plays that resulted in 15 offensive rebounds and 15 forced turnovers. “We talked a little bit about not relying on the first game to ease into it and then get back to the drawing board,” said Daigneault. “We wanted to come out and compete. I thought we did that.”
The Thunder took control of the game early on, aggressively attacking the paint and generating looks at the rim. Eight turnovers from the Lakers in the first quarter opened the door for OKC to break out in transition and beat the NBA’s number one defense in the league down the floor.
In the first half, the Thunder dominated in the lane with 40 points in the paint compared to 24 from the Lakers.
“We just wanted to be the aggressors,” said Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. “We just try to use our, our, [lack of] size advantage to our advantage, and attack them go downhill, put pressure on the rim. We were able to get into the paint and make plays.”
Darius Bazley served as a key contributor to the early scoring effort by the Thunder as he logged a double-double in the first half with 17 points and 10 rebounds against the likes of Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol. The performance was the first time a Thunder player accomplished such a feat since February of 2019.
“He’s learning the physicality that it takes to compete and he's been put in a lot of situations where he's playing against more physically developed players,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “Tonight he was really good and he's just he's being put in so many situations it's going to serve him so well long term.”
After a slow start for the Lakers in the opening half, it seemed as though they found their stride offensively in the third quarter after a 12-0 run to completely erase the Thunder’s lead. Dennis Schröder and LeBron James connected on consecutive plays to put the control back in Los Angeles’s hands.
OKC rallied back offensively behind a pair of buckets from Justin Jackson who logged a 14-point night off the bench on an efficient 6-of-10 shooting performance. Then it was Kenrich Williams who snagged two of his game-high and season-high six offensive rebounds to give the Thunder the extra possessions it needed to gain some momentum. After opening the quarter 1-of-13 from the field, the Thunder closed the frame on a 16-2 run and shooting 8-of-14 from the field.
“I love how Kenrich went out there and had such an impact on the game –getting offensive rebounds, defensively getting stops,” said Horford.
For the third straight game, the Thunder found itself in a clutch-time situation, this time trailing by three points with just eight seconds to go. Bazley lined up at center court across from LeBron James for a jump ball after a foul call was overturned on the previous possession. Bazley won the tip and sent it in the backcourt to Gilgeous-Alexander who had just seconds to generate a play that would tie up the game.
The third-year guard accelerated up the floor, stopped at the 3-point line and pump-faked Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to get him up in the air before drawing the contact and picking up a critical foul with just 1.2 seconds left.
Gilgeous-Alexander stepped to the free throw line – cool, calm and collected and drained all three shots to tie the game 110-110.
“Just the awareness to get up to the line and to shot fake and that situation is a really mature play,” said Daigneault. “I was impressed with his ability to get to the line in that situation as I was with him stepping up and making three shots.”
After a wild sequence to send the game into overtime, the Lakers outscored the Thunder 9-2 in the last five minutes to ultimately seal the deal. The shots that were falling earlier in the game didn’t drop outside of regulation as the Lakers continued to connect on their looks.
“I thought our pace slowed a little bit. I thought we had some opportunities to attack earlier than we did and we were still in the mode of the end of regulation,” said Daigneault. “That's a tough adjustment when you go to an overtime – to get back into like game flow for a couple minutes. We’ll learn from it and make the proper adjustments.”
Play of the Game
In the midst of the Thunder’s run to close out the third quarter, Hamidou Diallo put on an end-to-end performance that served as a microcosm of the energy and effort required in Sunday’s game.
The third-year guard snuck behind the defensive play where Harrell looked to back down Bazley on the block. Diallo swiped down on the ball which forced a turnover as Hami immediately sprinted into transition. SGA dished the ball off to Diallo who was ahead of the play at this point, and the former NBA Dunk Champion rose up, finishing the layup through the contesting arms of Kyle Kuzma.
Stat of the Night3
For the first time since last season, the Thunder finished the night with three players who recorded double-doubles: Hamidou Diallo (20 points, 11 rebounds), Darius Bazley (21 points, 16 rebounds0 and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (29 points, 10 assists). The statistic was a piece of a larger focus for the Thunder on Monday which was to make the extra effort plays required to win the game. As a result, OKC tallied 15 offensive rebounds, five of which belonged to Hamidou Diallo and six to Williams.
“Those guys are monsters and it's every night,’ said Daigneault. “They're not perfect, but their effort and their competitiveness and the job that they give to the team when they go in the game – they’re electric players. They deserve a lot of credit, there were plenty of times where it got dicey tonight, and they came up with a ball that we desperately needed at that time.”
Quotes of the Night
“All our guys, they took the challenge. We saw him earlier this year and then this time around it was like it's supposed to be. They were playing hard. They were competing and were trying to get it done as a team.”
-Al Horford “I thought we threw a really good punch. We competed for 48 minutes. We laid it on the line. We got contributions across all eight guys and obviously we were a play or two short but we weren't short and competitive spirit, feistiness or our scrap tonight.”
After 53 minutes of game time against them, OKC now has a deep familiarity with the Lakers that they’ll look to capitalize on in their rematch on Wednesday. It will be the final game of the Thunder’s stretch of mini-series before travelling to Denver to take on the Nuggets on Friday.