Composure in the Clutch,
Thunder Evens the Series
Game Recap: Thunder 121, Wizards 103
OKC brought the energy in its early Sunday matinee matchup against the Wizards. Great ball movement and offensive execution opened the door for wide-open looks from behind the arc, which the Thunder knocked down at a 46-percent clip to maintain a steady lead.
The first quarter of action for the Thunder was déjà vu to the squad’s explosive first quarter against Memphis on Friday. However, instead of Luguentz Dort serving as the Thunder’s catalyst from behind the arc, it was Thunder center Mike Muscala who started for the Thunder after Steven Adams (lower leg contusion) and Nerlens Noel (ankle soreness) were late scratches from the game.
Muscala erupted out of the gates knocking down a trio of 3-pointers in the first five minutes of the game. The Thunder’s pick-and-pop specialist sat out of the last two games while going through the NBA’s concussion protocol and proved in the early moments against Washington, that he’s back and ready to play. He finished the game with 14 points on 4-of-8 from the 3-point line.
“Well mike got us off to a great stop start he knocked down those first two threes give us a quick early lead,” said Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan. “I think Chris (Paul) and he worked very, very well and pick and roll together.”
Contrary to the Thunder’s matchup against the Grizzlies on Friday, the offensive energy built up in the first quarter, carried over into the rest of the game in large part thanks to the production from OKC’s second unit of Abdel Nader, Hamidou Diallo and Darius Bazley. The Thunder’s second group came into the game with the task of maintaining OKC’s high offensive energy in the face of Washington’s matchup zone and not letting the offense stagnate or stall. With ball movement, cuts without the basketball and strong attacks to the rim, the Thunder’s offense never wavered in the first half and lead 64-48 at the break.
Bazley, who put up 11 points in the second quarter, was also tasked with minutes at the center spot for the Thunder while Muscala rested on the bench. The rookie delivered by finishing with a career-high 23 points and knocking down five 3-pointers including a dazzling step-back over Mortiz Wagner at the end of the third quarter. He also contributed mature plays at the basket by finding the seams in the Wizard’s zone and making the right play with confidence.
“My confidence really does come from my teammates and my coaches,” said Bazley. “When the ball gets in my hands, it's all about just making the right play… whether that’s shooting that shot or taking the drive or making the pass, whatever it is.”
Bazley’s size and activity at the 5-spot, coupled with Muscala’s ability to stretch the floor, gave the Thunder a unique advantage at the center position to space the floor and open up driving lanes. This is a look that the Thunder rarely sees during the season with Adams and Noel on the floor, but against Washington’s smaller frontline in Thomas Bryant and Wanger, the Thunder took advantage of the opportunity. Bazley and Muscala combined for 9-of-16 from the 3-point line.
“I think for what our guys needed to do in the game, I thought both those guys played really really well and gave us different dimension from the perimeter,” said Donovan.
Washington’s offense struggled to keep up with the pace and tempo of which OKC played. The Thunder held onto a comfortable lead throughout the game with the help of a quiet 20 points from Danilo Gallinari and 18 from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. It was Chris Paul who served as the pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop maestro to create opportunities for the five other Thunder players who finished in double figures.
“He’s a phenomenal passer obviously, he sees the game unlike any player I’ve really played with,” said Muscala. “His talk offensively and defensively is huge and the way he reads the game goes a long way for the whole team.”
OKC set the high-energy tone from the very opening moments of the game with a two-handed dunk from Danilo Gallinari on its first possession. Coming into the game, the Thunder’s main priority was to maintain a level of consistency on the offensive side of the ball contrary to its performance against Memphis. As they learned on Friday, an early lead and a hot shooting start is a feeble promise to hold onto without sticking to offensive principles. In Sunday’s matchup, the Thunder stuck to its game plan for an entire four quarters by attacking the paint, moving the ball and playing with tempo on the offensive end. It was this level of consistent ball movement that allowed the Thunder to shoot at a staggering 46.2-percent clip from the 3-point line on 18-of-30 attempts.
“I thought the way we attacked the paint was much better than it was coming out of the Memphis game,” said Donovan. “There was a level of carryover for a period of time in both halves. We shot the ball well because I thought we generated good shots. But that's the kind of pace of speed that we need to play at.”
Play of the Game
The Thunder’s ball movement was on full display against Washington’s zone defense. Halfway through the first quarter, Muscala squared up to set a ball screen for Danilo Gallinari on the right side of the floor. Rui Hachimura, who was guarding Muscala, helped up just enough to allow Muscala to roll behind him for what looked like a wide-open layup. Washington’s Isaac Bonga slid over to help from the other side of the floor. Right behind Bonga, Dort snuck in toward the block unnoticed.
Muscala elevated and wrapped the ball over to the rookie for an easy two-handed slam!
that ball movement— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) August 9, 2020
Gallo Musky Lu pic.twitter.com/UZ2wwIbqem
Stat of the Night23
At just 20 years and 58 days old, Darius Bazley became the youngest reserve in Thunder history to score over 20 points in a game. Bazley led the Thunder in scoring with 23 points and knocked down five made 3-pointers to go with seven rebounds. His performance was an indicator of the work that he put into his game over the hiatus to become a stronger player and more confident shooter.
“I think he shot the ball better tonight he took better shots. He really had a nice combination of when to shot fake and drive it, and then obviously went to take the three,” said Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan. “He had a really, really good first half on both ends of the floor.”
“Baze is a great young man,” said Muscala. “Everything that comes his way he's well deserving of. He works really hard, and he's going to be a good player in this league– a great player.”
Quotes of the Night
“We just wanted to make sure that you know we were staying disciplined and just trying to keep building good habits and creating identity for ourselves.” –Darius Bazley
“I thought that we tried to play to the identity of how we want to play and that's through ball movement, playing with good speed and pace and getting into offense quickly.” –Coach Donovan
Only one night’s rest separates the Thunder’s game against Washington from its next matchup against the Phoenix Suns. This marks the Thunder’s one and only back-to-back during the NBA’s restart in Orlando and they wrap it up with the only undefeated team remaining in the bubble.
The @okcthunder will look to build off of today's win as they face off against @DevinBook and the red-hot @Suns on Monday at 1:30 PM— FOX Sports Oklahoma (@FOXSportsOK) August 9, 2020
Catch Thunder live at 1:00 PM on @FOXSportsOK #WholeNewGame | #ThunderUp pic.twitter.com/vFr423ZxqM