Both teams had to withstand punches thrown their way on Friday night. The Thunder came out of the gates strong, but a massive run from Detroit that spanned the second and third quarters forced the resilient Thunder to dig deep defensively to put itself back within striking distance in the final moments.
After Detroit jumped out to an early start to take a commanding lead back on April 5, the Thunder took that as a lesson for how it needs to come out against the young, physical Pistons group. With that in mind, the Thunder took control early in Motor City behind a strong defensive effort that held the Pistons to just 33-percent shooting from the field while swatting away six blocks and snatching away three steals.
“We know that this is a very physical team, so we wanted to be the ones to throw the first punch,” said Thunder forward Darius Bazley. “I think that’s what helped us get out to a great start. Guys just understanding that we’ve got to be ready from the jump and assert ourselves on the defensive end.”
That defensive pressure translated into offense on the other end of the floor for the Thunder with Bazley picking up where he left off on Wednesday. In his 12 minutes of first quarter action, Bazley recorded 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting including two aggressive, eye-catching dunks.
Thunder forward Isaiah Roby chipped in six points on a perfect 3-for-3 from the field and two blocks, two assists and two rebounds.
The Thunder built up a lead as large as 11 points in the first quarter, but Detroit quickly shook off its slow start offensively and responded with a punch in the second. Rookie Saddiq Bey and guard Josh Jackson combined for 21 points and the Thunder’s physicality on the defensive end translated into 11 free throw attempts for the Pistons in the second quarter. By halftime, the Pistons tied the game 56-56 and held firm control on the game’s momentum.
“We knew how physical of a game that was going to be and how physical of a team Detroit is and a huge emphasis for us was bringing the physicality of the game from the jump, and I thought we did that tonight. We got off to a really good start,” said Daigneault. “Credit them, they hung in there. Both teams had to withstand storms tonight in the game and I thought both teams did, and they were just a little bit better from an execution standpoint than we were tonight.”
Despite trailing by as many as 15 in the second half, the Thunder resuscitated its offense by locking in on the defensive end and getting stops. With that effort, the Thunder went on a 12-4 run in the fourth quarter capped by an offensive rebound put back by Moses Brown that brought the game to just one point with just over four minutes remaining in the game.
It was a strong claw-back effort by the Thunder who withstood the massive punch thrown by Detroit who outscored the thunder 61-47 through the second and third quarters. The Thunder’s leading scorer, Lu Dort played a massive factor in that effort. Just one game removed from his 42-point outburst against Utah, Dort demonstrated his two-way prowess yet again by chipping in 12 fourth-quarter points on the way to a team-high 26 while also defending Detroit’s offensive go-to in Josh Jackson forcing stops, turnovers and offensive fouls.
“I thought the stretch in the fourth when the game was starting to slip away from us we kind of pumped it to him a little bit and he kind of stabilized things for us,” said Daigneault. “He just keeps getting better. These are great reps for him. He seems to be getting better game by game.”
However, the Thunder’s offense was unable to capitalize at the opportune time. Following Brown’s dunk, Detroit’s Frank Jackson responded immediately with a layup on the other end of the floor to bolder the Pistons’ lead. Despite a gritty effort by the Thunder to prolong the game and give itself a chance to climb back into the driver’s seat, Detroit’s lead never dipped below four points for the remainder of the game.
“Obviously this one didn't go our way. There's certainly some execution things that we can clean up and learn from,” said Daigneault. “But I thought the togetherness, the chemistry and the competitive spirit of the team was really good tonight. That's where we have to be the night after night and use the experiences to improve.
Play of the Game
Despite missing 16 games with a shoulder contusion, Darius Bazley returned to the lineup with an added dose of explosiveness and sharpness on the offensive end. The Thunder’s second-year guard demonstrated that fact in the opening minutes of Friday’s game.
Bazley received a screen from Isaiah Roby on the right side of the floor. As Detroit miscommunicated on the screening coverage, Bazley took advantage of the wide-open lane in front of him. It only took a couple of dribbles before Bazley elevated and punched down an emphatic right-handed slam over Isaiah Stewart .
“He looks more decisive. He's playing more downhill and more straight line on his drives. He's always had that athletic pop,” said Daigneault. “It's really about applying that to his driving game and I think that's shown up here the four games that he's been back.”
“It’s good to see him play like that. He’s dealt with injury recently and it’s just nice to see him on the floor playing good and playing with confidence,” said Dort.
Stat of the Night30
While the Thunder’s energy, effort and competitiveness were steady throughout all 48 minutes, its execution wavered throughout the game. By the end of the night, the Thunder gave up 30 second chance points while Detroit only suffered 11. Friday’s physical matchup with Detroit served as yet another opportunity for the young Thunder to take the experiences from the game and apply them to the next.
“There's a lot we have to learn. We're drinking from a firehose a little bit. But the first thing and number one that we have to get done is to compete every single night and to compete with great effort and great togetherness. I thought we did that tonight,” said Daigneault.”
Quotes of the Night
“When we have problems on the court, it’s important that we make sure we solve the problem with five guys. Not one single person is going to solve the problem. We’re going to solve the problem with five guys and that means using every single one of our teammates to our advantage.”–Coach Daigneault
The Thunder rolls along in its four-game road trip through the Eastern Conference. Up next, the squad will meet the Raptors in their temporary home in Tampa Bay for a short trip on Sunday before making their way back up the Eastern Seaboard to take on the Wizards the following night.