It took a collective effort by the Thunder to overcome double-digit deficits on two separate occasions including a career-high scoring night for Darius Bazley. Despite being on the doorstep for the second straight night, Washington outpaced the Thunder down the stretch to take the win.
The Thunder capped off what was a demanding stretch where it played five games in a matter of seven days against Washington on the second night of a back-to-back. Despite the grueling nature of the schedule, the Thunder shook off an early punch thrown by the Wizards and battled its way back from a 17-point deficit in the second quarter after an early 11 points from Bradley Beal.
“They really played tonight. I thought the competitiveness, the second quarter on, we really competed,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “It was a fun game to compete in. The guys were really into it. Obviously, we would have liked to get that one and liked to get all these, but at the end of the day if we compete like that, we'll continue to improve at the rate we've been improving. That's a main ingredient.”
Thunder rookie point guard Théo Maledon instigated the Thunder’s 14-5 run. Right out of a timeout with just under seven minutes left in the second quarter, the Thunder executed a sharp sideline-out-of-bounds play that resulted in a crafty dump off pass from the rookie to big man Tony Bradley for a slam. The dunk was just two of the nine consecutive points that Théo was responsible for via score or assist. By the end of the night the Thunder would have six players in double figures including Maledon with 15 points and Bradley with 16.
“I really was trying to play with more pace, and really play with rhythm to try to get the easiest things possible,” said Maledon. “Really do the little things that makes us in the right space in the right path.”
The Thunder’s run ballooned to 24-9 in order to cut the Wizard’s looming deficit down to just one point with just 30 seconds left in the half. However, a driving layup from Russell Westbrook and a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Davis Bertans put Washington back up six points going into halftime.
“We knew we had to do it with stops. Offensively, we were able to get to whatever we wanted really, it just came down to getting stops,” said Bazley. “Just getting back in transition, limiting their second chance points and getting good stuff offensively.”
The Wizard’s lead reinflated to double-figures in the third quarter. It wasn’t Svi Mykhailiuk rolled in a layup at the final second of the frame that the Thunder’s momentum once again shifted in its favor. This time, OKC rallied to the tune of a 15-6 run behind the efforts of its leading scorer Bazley. The second year forward cashed in 10 points in the fourth quarter alone on the way to a career-high 26. Bazley was aggressive in attacking the paint which resulted in both opportunities at the rim and trips to the free throw line.
“He's just been playing with great force lately. He's really becoming more decisive,” said Daigneault. “He’s really starting to understand how athletic and strong he is and is gaining a lot of confidence in that. We’re just lighting the fuse on it. We love to see it. He's gonna make mistakes. He's not gonna be perfect, but that aggressiveness and that force he's playing with is the type of player that we think he can be.”
After the run, the Thunder had cut Washington’s lead to just two points and for the second straight night, Coach Daigneault’s squad found itself on the doorstep of another clutch-game scenario.
After cutting it to two points, the Wizards immediately responded with back-to-back buckets by Robin Lopez to send the game back to two possessions. For the remainder of the night, every shot that the Thunder made was matched by a bucket from the Wizards who were able to keep OKC at arm’s reach for the remainder of the night.
“We were right on the doorstep of that one and obviously it didn't go our way,” said Daigneault. “Tonight was tremendous progress for us. That was tough travel. We got in late. We're without Lu [Dort] obviously and [Isaiah] Roby, and these guys played man. They really played tonight. I thought the competitiveness, the second quarter on, we really competed.”
Play of the Game
On the heels of one of his most well-rounded performances of the season, Pokuševski continued to demonstrate his ability to impact the game on multiple levels. In the back half of the second frame, the 7-foot rookie attacked the left side of the lane which drew the attention of two Washington defenders. Without skipping a beat, Poku whipped the ball behind his back to the opposite block where his teammate Tony Bradley was waiting all alone for an uncontested dunk.
Stat of the Night13
Not only did Bazley record a career-high in points on Monday, but the sophomore forward logged a career high in free throw attempts as well with 13 which led all players in the game. Bazley logged 38 minutes of game action with the assignment of defending Westbrook minute for minute all on the second night of a back-to-back. Even then, Bazley’s energy remained consistent throughout the contest on both ends of the floor.
“I think that’s just kind of how I get myself going,” said Bazley. “Good things happen when you get feet in the paint, now you're able to create for yourself or your teammates so I think it's important to just not attack the defense, keep them on their heels.”
“He was awesome. He was big time,” said Daigneault. “Baze played a lot of minutes last night and tonight he goes minute for minute with Westbrook. We matched his minutes so that he could guard Russell. I thought he did a really good job with a game plan there. He played probably the last 15 minutes straight of the game. I didn't think his energy dipped at all. He was big time tonight.”
Quotes of the Night
“I'll first start by saying that on my job interview for the (OKC) Blue head coaching job, the first time I stepped foot in the state of Oklahoma, on the first day or the second day, I was at the Memorial, which I think speaks volumes to the priority that the organization places on that event, and that Memorial, as it relates to the team…This is a unique relationship between an organization and a community. We should just embrace that. It's an extremely unique relationship in professional sports and the NBA and we really, really feel closely tied to it. That event, as tragic as it was, there's been a lot of silver lining that's come from that in the city and I think the Thunder is a byproduct of that.”
–Coach Daigneault on the 26th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing
The last stop on the Thunder’s four-game road trip is in Indiana on Wednesday before returning home to Chesapeake Energy Arena where they’ll get a second shot at the Wizards in less than a week. However, it will be a short trip home as the group will then set out on another three-game road trip to begin next week.