OKLAHOMA CITY- With the trade deadline looming over the entire NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder relied on their defense to squeak out a late victory.
Oklahoma City held off the Cleveland Cavaliers to pick up a 109-103 victory.
“We weren’t probably as sharp as we needed to be,” Thunder Coach Billy Donovan said after the game.
“I thought we closed the game really well.”
The mood in the Chesapeake Energy Arena shifted midway through the first quarter.
Reports began to swirl about Danilo Gallinari becoming a trade target for the Miami Heat, unsettling an already depleted crowd.
Sloppy play across the second and third quarters added to the uneasy atmosphere, as Oklahoma City took just a three point lead into the fourth quarter.
An odd series of events spurred the Thunder to flip a switch down the stretch.
With 3:42 left in the game, Thunder guard Dennis Schröder was called for an offensive foul against Colin Sexton. Schröder, visibly upset with the decision, sprinted to the other end of the floor and was then assessed a technical foul for his reaction.
“I think Dennis [Schröder] might need to try and get that one back,” Chris Paul said of the technical foul call after the game.
“It’s a tough $2,500 call right there.”
Donovan’s challenge was successful as the call was overturned, but the technical foul stood. Kevin Love sunk the corresponding free throw for the Cavaliers, knotting the game up at 95.
In the final three minutes, the Thunder applied the clamps to Cleveland. Oklahoma City forced a pair of turnovers, highlighted by a big Schröder steal, to outscore their opponents 14-8 in the final minutes.
“We’re locked in on the defensive end,” Schröder said. “We did that great down the stretch.”
“I thought we closed the game really well,” Donovan said.
Derek and Ryan have your postgame report after OKC’s 109-103 win over Cleveland featuring interviews from Gallo, T-Ferg, and Chris Paul. pic.twitter.com/1svHDJK5jA
— The Franchise Sports (@FranchiseOK) February 6, 2020
Schröder’s defensive exploits in the final few minutes capped off his great night, leading all scorers with 30 points on 10-of-17 shooting.
“He should be an All-Star the way he plays,” Terrance Ferguson said of Schröder after the game. “He should be in the All-Star Game every year.”
Despite the rumors about his future swirling, Gallinari appeared unfazed while on the floor.
“My parents taught me a great thing when I was a little kid to not read newspapers or follow the media,” Gallinari said.
“I really don’t follow any kind of stuff, especially on game-day.”
Gallinari still posted 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting, good enough to be Oklahoma City’s third leading scorer for the evening.
Ferguson did not start in his first game back with the Thunder. After missing eight games for personal reasons, Ferguson backed up rookie Lugeuntz Dort.
“I just thought that was the best thing for our team,” Donovan said.
“This is the first time our team is really healthy, and we’re going to have to figure out different rotations and different combinations of players.”
Coming of the bench didn’t bother Ferguson.
“As long as we’re winning, that’s all I really care about,” Ferguson said. “I don’t really care about who’s starting.”
Ferguson was relatively quiet in his 11 minutes of playing time, still getting his feet back under him after the time away from the team.
Oklahoma City faced the Cavaliers on four days rest, a break from the busy January schedule the team endured. Donovan said the team will have to readjust after the extra days off.
“With the four-day break and having two days of practice here, just getting our rhythm and timing back will be important.” Donovan said.
Paul said having extra time off is no excuse for any lull in play.
“We got to handle our business,” Paul said. “I think we’ve got enough guys around here that understand the importance of each game.”
Regardless of what happens by the trade deadline on 3 p.m. Thursday, Oklahoma City will have little time to refocus.
The Thunder next host the Detroit Pistons at 7 p.m. on Friday.