Thunder’s Thrilling Finish Defeats the Spurs
Game Recap: Thunder 102, Spurs 99
A career night from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Lu Dort gave the Thunder the edge it needed to defeat the low-mistake Spurs. In a game that went back and forth through all four quarters, it came down to the final seconds to decide a winner.
Thunder players jumped onto a dogpile in the right-hand corner of the floor as the clock expired on Wednesday. The man at the bottom of the mound was the one responsible for the buzzer-beating 3-pointer – Lu Dort.
However, in the preceding 47 minutes and 57 seconds, it was another starter that was responsible for keeping the Thunder’s offense flowing and that was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The third-year guard finished with a career-high 42 points and got things going early with an 11-point first quarter.
SGA’s double-digit start paved the way for another strong first quarter for the Thunder who posted 28 points by attacking the lane and generating points in the paint. In fact, the Thunder’s first eight points came from the painted area. The early drives to the lane then opened things up from behind the arc for the Thunder who found teammates spotted up behind the arc which led to six 3-pointers in the first frame and 18 for the night.
On the defensive end, the Thunder dug in its heels to keep the game close as its offense dried up in the second quarter. For the fifth time in eight games, OKC held its opponent to under 50 points in the first half. Going into the half, the Thunder had only scored 12 points in the second quarter, went 0-for-7 from the 3-point line and yet trailed by a mere five points.
“We still have to compete even though our shots weren’t falling,” said Dort. “We still had to play defense and compete. It was early in the game and we knew we could win this game and our main thing was to compete until the end.”
After a lackluster offensive performance in the second quarter, the Thunder’s offense resurged in the third. A 3-pointer by Lu Dort lifted the lid off of the rim and it was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who took advantage from that point on.
The guard posted 21 points in the third quarter alone to give his group a 3-point lead going into the fourth frame. Shai went a perfect 5-for-5 from the field which included a spotless 3-for-3 performance from the 3-point line while also chipping in 8-for-9 from the charity stripe.
“I just wanted to be aggressive, try to put the defense on their heels. And then from there, make the right play,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “Oftentimes I found myself in a position to score in that quarter…just trying to be aggressive and make the right play for my team.”
“He just took over,” said Thunder veteran Al Horford. “Started keeping us in the game, keeping us afloat, kept it going and. He's the one that gets all the credit with that. He carried us during those times when we really, really needed it.”
Play of the Game
It was back and forth in the fourth quarter and as the clock ticked away, each possession became more and more critical. The Thunder found itself in a tied ball game with just 10.7 seconds left and in a position to have to play defense in order to give itself a chance. Out of the Spurs timeout, San Antonio’s sixth man in Patty Mills had already posted 10 points in the fourth quarter and now had the ball in his hands looking to make a play.
He dribbled off of a ball screen that temporarily shed Théo Maledon out of position, but Al Horford stepped up to take away any potential space Mills had for a 3-point look. The sudden pressure forced Mills into indecision as he picked up the ball to shoot it but was immediately deterred and put the ball back on the ground – double-dribble. The Thunder now had a chance to advance the ball and draw up a play win the ball game with 3.7 seconds remaining.
“I just wanted to be aggressive be out there and get him to do something that he wasn't accustomed to and we caused a turnover, and that gave us a chance there,” said Horford.
Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault drew up a play in the timeout that had Gilgeous-Alexander taking the ball out of bounds in order to initiate a two-man action between he and Horford on the inbounds. However, once the ball was in play, Horford called an audible.
The Spurs were playing aggressively, looking to get a steal on the inbounds and Horford knew it. As soon as he met the ball, San Antonio’s Jakob Poeltl lunged for the steal rendering him out of position and giving the Thunder’s versatile big-man an open drive to the lane. That’s when Patty Mills sprinted to the lane in a desperate attempt to cut off Horford’s easy drive to the rim – leaving Dort wide open in the corner, ready to let it fly on Al’s pass.
“I had different options and once I saw that Poeltl overplayed, I just decided to go to the basket and as soon as I saw Lu’s the founder commit, the ball was out,” said Horford. “[Lu] made a huge shot. That was great.”
“I didn’t know where the ball was going to fall, so I was just ready to make a play,” said Dort who finished with 16 points and four made 3-pointers.
pic.twitter.com/KbgkdB0C5f— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) February 25, 2021
Stat of the Night42
The Thunder’s third-year rising star in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander finished the night with a game-high, career-high 42 points, on 13-of-20 from the field, 6-of-11 from the 3-point line and 10-of-11 from the free-throw line. The performance put Gilgeous-Alexander in exclusive company becoming only the fifth player in OKC history with a 40-piece and the first in two seasons.
SGA was his own form of a triple threat on Wednesday. As a well-known driver and attacker to the rim, the Spurs dropped back to the lane in anticipation of a drive to the rim. This is when Gilgeous-Alexander unleashed his 3-point shooting. The guard punished each defender for their choice to go underneath a ball screen or back up in transition to protect the lane.
In the third pillar of his offense, Shai was the sole contributor to the Thunder’s free-throw line category. His 11 attempts were the only ones the Thunder recorded all night and the point guard converted all but one.
“The thing that's been most impressive has been how he's matured as a game manager and how he's finding a balance between his own offense and helping the team function,” said Daigneault. “I thought tonight, even with an explosion of points, he continued to do that and he didn't get seduced by the points on the board he just continued to make the right play.”
“I can't say enough about how impressed I was with how he managed the game tonight and how he took what the difference gave him and when he needed to pass it, he passed it,” said Horford. “He played he played an unbelievable game.”
“I just felt good tonight. I didn't like the way we ended last game…and I just tried to come out here, bring energy and try to get a W,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “Obviously, I don't like losing let alone losing twice in a row and that's what I just tried to do tonight. There was no extra push or anything like that. Just me trying to get a win.”
Quotes of the Night
“I really felt like a March Madness buzzer-beater. Emotions are flying high. It's a lot of energy, a lot of joy and kind of surreal like because you’re kind of shocked and happy and there's a lot of emotions going around at the same time. I’m just so happy for Lu for hitting that shot. Just a lot of emotions.”
“For these players, it's about being in these situations and just drinking up the competition and learning the lessons and the more you're in these situations, the more comfortable you get.” –Coach Daigneault
The Thunder will have a day of practice on Thursday before returning to action in OKC for a back-to-back to close out the week. The Thunder will host the Atlanta Hawks on Friday and then welcome the Denver Nuggets on Saturday. The back-to-back will close out a demanding stretch of basketball for the Thunder where the group has played five games in seven days.
"I wouldn't have known how much I had if my teammates weren't telling me, I was so locked into the game."— FOX Sports Oklahoma (@FOXSportsOK) February 25, 2021
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander meets with reporters after dropping a career-best 42 points against the Spurs. #ThunderUp pic.twitter.com/HsWBjRnHLp