Resilience on Display in
Thunder’s Battle With Phoenix
Game Recap: Thunder 120, Suns 123
Despite trailing by as many as 18 points, the Thunder kept the foot on the pedal to make it a two-possession game with less than a minute to go. A historic effort by the Thunder’s second unit and a relentless spirit helped make this one interesting in the final moments.
In a test of its zero-and-zero mentality, the Thunder passed with flying colors. Just 24 hours removed from a tough loss to the Pacers at home, the Thunder turned around to host one of the best teams in the league who would require a sharp, 48-minute performance to compete with. As a response, the Thunder pulled together a full-team offensive effort that forced Phoenix into a clutch-time situation with the game on the line.
“These guys were awesome on a number of levels,” said Daigneault. “First of all, tonight was a test of our zero-and-zero mindset with how we played last night. I thought everybody came ready to play and learned the lesson but then moved on and got ourselves into the competition. We played a 48-minute game.”
Against the number one team in the Western Conference, the Thunder led for the entire first quarter. OKC’s 33 first quarter points came by way of a 56-percent clip from the field and a 5-of-9 performance from deep. Although Devin Booker posted 12 points in the frame, the Thunder went into the second quarter ahead by six.
The Suns responded to the deficit with a 14-0 run to open up the second quarter. Veteran Chris Paul found Dario Šarić for a pair of 3-pointers that sent the Suns ahead by six points before the Thunder called a timeout to quell the momentum. The resilient Thunder responded with a run of its own behind timely defensive stops coupled with a pair of and ones from both Darius Bazley, who finished with a team-high 19 points and Gabriel Deck who added 11 off the bench. The burst by the Thunder began what would be a back-and-forth battle through the rest of the half. After five ties and five lead changes, the Thunder trailed by seven going into halftime.
The Suns then burst out on a 15-5 run in the third quarter to generate significant separation from the Thunder for the first time in the contest. A series of familiar midrange buckets from Paul and multiple trips to the free throw line for Phoenix aided the Suns to its largest lead of the night with 18 points in the final frame.
With 1:41 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Thunder had chipped away to make it a 10-point game. Both Booker and Paul missed a pair of buckets on back-to-back possessions while the Thunder took advantage on the offensive end. Each offensive possession resulted in a dunk for Isaiah Roby who finished the night with 11 points off the bench. In the second possession, Roby drew a foul while slamming the ball home which resulted in a 3-point play that brough the Thunder’s deficit to just five points with just 50 seconds left.
The Thunder’s defensive ace, Lu Dort matched up chest to chest with Booker on the other end. As Booker faded away for a midrange jumper, Dort rose to contest with a hand in his face. Booker kicked out his leg on his shot and was called for an offensive foul and was then called for a technical which gave the Thunder not only the possession, but also a free shot at the line.
Théo Maledon cashed in the free throw to make it a four-point game with 36 seconds left.
The Thunder missed a look at a 3-pointer that would have brought the game to just one point and were in critical need of a stop. That’s when the Thunder’s late-game, defensive execution shined. The 15-year veteran Chris Paul caught the ball in the backcourt and was met with a swift double-team by Maledon and Kenrich Williams that forced Paul to travel with 20 seconds left.
“In the previous time out, coach kind of went through a game plan, game situation that we work on in practice,” explained Williams. “We wanted to kind of trap the first pass before we had to foul. We trapped it and he turned it over, so it worked out well for us. I like the execution.”
The series of fortunate events came to a halt for the Thunder after a foul call on a Dort 3-pointer was overturned and Phoenix regained possession with 16 seconds left. As time dwindled, the Thunder was forced to foul which put the game just out of reach with a two-possession deficit.
“I just thought the poise and the presence by our players. These are things we go over, but for them to carry it over in a pressure situation like that when the stakes are high and they really wanted to win the game, for them to do that, with the level of awareness that they did was, was high, high level,” said Daigneault. “So that was what was most impressive - more the mental than the physical.”
Play of the Game
Thunder rookie Théo Maledon played a key role in the teams’ late-game effort. The 19-year-old rookie cashed in one of his three made 3-pointers in the fourth quarter with just 2:30 left to go in the game. The triple brought the game to 10 points and forced Phoenix head coach Monty Williams to call a timeout. The 19-year-old point guard finished with 18 points on the night including a 3-for-6 performance from downtown. The effort marked 96 made three’s for Maledon this season which set a new Thunder rookie record for 3-pointers made in a season.
“It’s definitely humbling,” said Maledon. “Really blessed to be able to achieve that.”
Stat of the Night65
The Thunder’s second unit played a key role in the fourth-quarter push to close the gap. With four players in double-figures, the Thunder’s second unit scored 65 points which ties the second most bench points in OKC history. Ty Jerome and Kenrich Williams posted 15 as Isaiah Roby and Gabriel Deck recorded 11 each.
The effort marked the first time this season where the Thunder had four players in double figure scoring and just the fourth time in OKC history.
“I thought they were great,” said Daigneault. “They held it down tonight and we staggered some different guys in there. Everybody just stayed ready, but it was impressive one through 11 our willingness to compete. I thought the bench, the starters everybody top to bottom was ready to play tonight.”
Quotes of the Night
“Sadly it didn't end up the way we want it, but I felt like we did a great job turning the page from last game and really competing all 48 minutes. That’s something that we want to really put in our DNA and so I felt like that was something that even though we didn't get the win was really positive.”
“There's some real substance to the group of guys that we have. We have to continue to grow. We're young and we're going to make some mistakes and we're going to have some relapses; we’ve just got to learn and grow through everything and that's why I'm as happy as I am tonight because I think we grew in a ton of ways in this game tonight. It was a really confidence building performance, even though obviously we ended up on the short end of it.”
The Thunder will have the day off on Monday before wrapping up its four-game homestand with its first of three matchups this season against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday. From there, the Thunder will ship out on its final road trip of the season that includes two games each against the Warriors and the Kings.
Back at it on Tuesday night pic.twitter.com/prBuTL1KC0— Bally Sports Oklahoma (@BallySportsOK) May 3, 2021