Game Recap: Thunder 102, Sixers 97

Each game for the Thunder offers a unique look into what the squad needs to work on as it ramps up into the 8-game regular season. On Friday against Boston, the Thunder was tested with a versatile Boston defense with the ability to switch at nearly every position. In a Sunday morning matchup with Philly, the Thunder got an opportunity to flex its infamous resilience muscle after overcoming a looming 24-point deficit.

“I think it speaks to our guys. We've kind of been that way all year long when we get down our guys don't pout or complain, and they try to fight,” said Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan.

In the first half, the major discrepancy between the Thunder and the 76ers was at the 3-point line. Philadelphia was shooting at a 43.5-percent clip from behind the arc with Al Horford leading the way with four of his own. Meanwhile, the Thunder struggled to answer. OKC was shooting 20 percent with just three makes off of 15 attempts.

Also contributing to the Thunder’s deficit was the infrequent trips to the free throw line. When it came to the Thunder’s identity, the squad led the league in free throw attempt differential at +6.2. However, in the opening half of the game, the Thunder trailed 10-12 in free throw attempts.

“If you look at the second half we did a much better job of attacking the basket and getting into the paint and getting to the line but we did not shoot the ball well. I thought Shai, Dennis, Chris and (Gallinari), those guys had really good looks at times and we just didn't shoot the ball very well,” said Donovan. “

“When we didn't shoot the ball well, it put Philly on the break and allowed their size and athleticism to get into play. We were kind of always playing from behind.”

In the third quarter, the Thunder looked to swing the pendulum back in its direction. After digging a 24-point hole early on, the Thunder found some momentum on its side thanks to the energetic second-unit contributions of Dennis Schröder and Darius Bazley who were able to get a couple of 3-pointers to fall in their favor. Going into the fourth quarter, the Thunder were on a 13-0 run and poised for a strong fourth quarter push.

Coach Donovan looked to get as many players reps as possible in Sunday’s matinee game. When the game appeared to be in reach, rather than going back to his trusty clutch-time lineup of Dennis Schröder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chris Paul, Steven Adams and Danilo Gallinari, he stuck with his second unit and players like Darius Bazley, Hamidou Diallo, Lu Dort, Mike Muscala and Andre Roberson.

It was this lineup that closed the gap to take the lead for the first time since the first quarter. The final minutes were full of high energy plays including Mike Muscala draining a pair of 3-pointers and slamming in an emphatic put back dunk to tie the game with three minutes remaining.

“I really give Mike Muscala a lot of credit, you know, sitting there for three and a half quarters and coming in the last six minutes and being a pro and being ready to play,” said Donovan.

The true dagger, however, came from the Thunder’s beloved guard who recently returned to the hardwood after 909 days without playing – Andre Roberson. With less than a minute remaining and the Thunder down by two points, Devon Hall drove the left side of the lane and attracted Philadelphia’s help-side defender. This left Roberson wide open for a corner three to put the Thunder ahead by one point.

In a subsequent possession, Roberson found himself open again on the perimeter and only one word went through his mind before he sank his second straight 3-pointer, win.”

“I just kind of go out there and show what I got. I'm gonna go out there compete at the highest level and do whatever the game tells me to do,” said Roberson. “If that’s shoot the 3 and it happens to be open, I’ll shoot the 3. If that’s play defense and bring energy to the team, I’ll go out there and do it. If it’s going in and rebounding, I'm gonna do so. I just try to find what the game needs at the moment and try to go out there and do it.”

For Chris Paul, the NBA’s leader in clutch time points and a member of the highest efficiency lineup in the league, seeing how the Thunder’s second unit fought to maintain momentum and come out on top.

“It’s amazing, especially the way our first group played the game, to have those guys play that hard given the situation,” said Chris Paul postgame. “We’ve got one of those teams where scrimmage, preseason or not, we’re going to compete. To see how those guys fought back and Dre to hit those big shots was nice for us to see.”

By the end of the night, the Thunder still only shot 28.9 percent from the 3-point line, but it attempted 14 more free throws than the 76ers and outscored them 32-16 in the final frame. Reverting back to its strength during the regular season, when one area of its game isn’t working, the Thunder look to adjust and control what they can control. In its second scrimmage in Orlando, the Thunder showed that aspect of its identity hasn’t faltered one bit.

“As a coach I couldn't be prouder of the fight that they always have,” said Donovan. “And what I love about this team is that when adversity hits, they still battle and they'll fight. The Thunder will have one more scrimmage opportunity on Tuesday against the Portland Trailblazers at 5 p.m. CT. From that point on, the Thunder’s matchups will count toward its standings in the Western Conference starting with a tilt against the Utah Jazz on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.