Game Recap: Thunder 114, Pistons 107
The Thunder responded to two tough losses with one of its best shooting performances of the season headlined by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Even when the Pistons brought the game to within one point in the fourth quarter, the Thunder’s offense remained consistent.
After back-to-back games in which the Thunder shot 17 and 32 percent from the 3-point line, Wednesday night’s game was a breath of fresh air. Both offensively and defensively, the Thunder popped with energy and force from the outset. There was no better illustration of that fact than the first two possessions of the game. After Steven Adams won the tip, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander knocked down a step back 3-pointer to get the Thunder on the board first. Immediately on the other end, Chris Paul swiped a pass for an easy pick six.
The sequence was a perfect preamble to a 6-of-10 performance from the 3-point line, a 68-percent clip from the field and five steals all in the first frame.
“I thought we started off really well,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan. “I thought our guys came in focused and ready to play so we had good bounce and good pop and I thought we were lively to start the game.”
The source of the Thunder’s offensive fervor – quick advances up the floor and ball movement from one side of the floor to the other. As a result, the Thunder earned open looks from the perimeter as Detroit’s defensive rotations were shuffled in the midst of the movement. By halftime, the Thunder was shooting 69 percent from the field and 57 percent from behind the arc. Paul led the Thunder in scoring at the half with 13 points with Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schröder chipping in 12 each. Combined, the trio knocked down 15 of 18 of its field goal attempts and 5 of 7 from 3-point land.
The Pistons hung around by shooting at a very similar percentage while also getting to the free throw line and grabbing critical second chance points. Going into the fourth quarter, the Pistons only trailed 12 as one of Terrance Ferguson’s 3-pointers was overturned at the break.
The Pistons carried that momentum into the fourth quarter where they made a tremendous run to regain a one-point lead with six minutes remaining on the clock. The Thunder remained steady and continue to play within its offensive rhythm and tempo.
The Thunder’s shooting percentage surpassed its previous threshold by a small fraction and yet overshadowed that performance remarkably in terms of consistency of shot making for 48 minutes. The previous mark for the season was .612 and on Wednesday, the Thunder shot at .613.
“It was great because that's the way we have to play,” said Donovan. “I think when you're playing against an elite defensive team, for our team, we've got to get the ball ahead of the defense. The way you do that is by moving it, cutting it, and being sharp and crisp and not being able to get pinned on one side. I thought our pace and tempo was good.”
After leading by as many as 16 points in the game, the Thunder suddenly found itself in a close ball game with six minutes remaining. The Pistons ignited on a 16-2 run headlined by Christian Wood who cashed in 10 of his game high 29 points in the fourth quarter. Capping the run was Svi Mykhailiuk who sank a 3-pointer in the corner giving Detroit its first lead since the first quarter.
“The start of the fourth was really kind of a momentum swing,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan.
The Thunder once again found itself in a close game down the stretch. Luckily, this wasn’t unfamiliar territory for OKC. The group remained poised forcing tough contested shots and grabbing critical stops to end Detroit’s run.
On the offensive end, buckets from Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schröder helped the Thunder to hold on to a one possession lead for the next four minutes. Then, with 30 seconds remaining on the game clock and the Thunder ahead by one point, Chris Paul came off a ball screen at the top of the key before zipping the ball to the opposite wing where Danilo Gallinari stood wide open for an uncontested look from behind the arc. Gallinari drained it and the Thunder moved to a relatively comfortable two-possession lead.
“With a point guard like [Chris] you have to be ready, it could come to you at any moment,” said Gallinari. “Especially, I know and everybody knows, he’s going to make the right play.”
...and that Gallo trey. pic.twitter.com/7SCXP8JZ6P— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 5, 2020
Play of the Game
OKC’s ball movement was on full display in this play in the opening minutes of the second quarter. Nerlens Noel stood at the top of the key trapped after having used his dribble already. On the wing, Dennis Schröder set up his man for a backdoor cut to the lane in which Noel dropped a perfectly placed pass in the path of Schröder who secured the ball with one hand before drawing the attention of help side defense from the corner. Schröder elevated as though to shoot a layup before dropping it off in midair for Luguentz Dort who sliced into the lane from the corner for an uncontested two-handed dunk.
the art of the pass.— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 5, 2020
Stat of the Night80%
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander notched the best shooting performance of his career in the midst of the Thunder’s hyper-efficient shooting night. SGA knocked down 12-15 from the field (an 80 percent clip) on the way to a team high 27 points. After racking up 10 points in the first quarter, Gilgeous-Alexander added another 13 in the third quarter. A mixture of strong, crafty finishes at the rim and smart shot taking within the offense allowed Gilgeous-Alexander to flourish throughout the entire 48 minutes.
“He was really, really efficient, made some really good plays around the basket, got inside the teeth of the defense, got to the paint…he was really crafty in terms of getting in there,” said Donovan. “I thought he made really good decisions of when to drive, when to pull up and when to take it all the way to the basket.”
Best shooting night of his career.— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 5, 2020
12/15 | 80% | 27 PTS pic.twitter.com/BXsoyeaTd5
Quotes of the Night
“Chris (Paul) said before the game ‘you got to come out aggressive.’ The past couple of games I thought we went on our heels for the majority of the games, that's why the outcomes were what they were. We just wanted to be aggressive tonight and I think we ought to know that.” -Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
“We were just trying to play at a fast pace. I think when we do that everybody gets in a very good rhythm.” –Danilo Gallinari
Some of tonight’s numbers.— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 5, 2020
13 Steals (5 different players)
9 Schröder assists pic.twitter.com/fYw75gktmF
The Thunder will have a day off as it rolls into New York City for a tilt on Friday. From Madison Square Garden, the Thunder will face the Celtics in T.D. Garden on Sunday.