OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — After a dominant first 10 minutes of play, the Oklahoma City Thunder (26-18) found themselves in a back-and-forth affair with the Los Angeles Lakers (25-21).
A lead that ballooned to as much as 17 for the Thunder went away quickly as the second quarter began. After shooting ridiculous percentages from the floor and scoring points off of forced turnovers, the Lakers flipped the script the rest of the contest, ultimately winning 138-128.
From the end of the first quarter, which Oklahoma City led 39-27, Los Angeles outscored the home team 111-89.
“We have to defend the three-point line,” Billy Donovan said afterward. “I thought the difference in the game was our ability to defend the three-point line. We have done it so well all year.”
Donovan was very direct as to the problem that has plagued the Thunder in recent weeks. With their fifth loss in the last six games, Donovan preached the team’s need to defend the perimeter.
“We need to stop being surprised when Lonzo Ball shoots a three,” Donovan said referencing Oklahoma City’s perimeter defenders letting up on typically poor three point shooters. “Last week, I never saw anything like it. What, San Antonio shot 16-19? And then Atlanta makes 18 threes and they’re not a good three-point shooting team percentage wise, and then we give up 18 to these guys.”
“It’s not pick and roll coverage,” Donovan added. “It’s defending the three-point line.”
Despite the Thunder cleaning things up in the second half, the defense never got back to the initial intensity. Los Angeles hit big shot after big shot and answered every thing Oklahoma City threw at them.
It made for an exciting game. The Thunder, who are the league’s worst three-point shooting team, tied a franchise record with 20-made threes. Tonight also marked the first time in team history to have three players with five made 3-point field goals — Paul George, Russell Westbrook and Terrance Ferguson.
Unfortunately for the Thunder, they missed 12 of their final 14 shots. Six of them from Westbrook.
“I thought Russell took the right shots.” Donovan said.”I don’t feel like we are taking a lot of bad shots. If they are going to give us those kind of shots, we need to take them.”
This did not mean Oklahoma City would go away quietly. As they have all year, they continued to scratch and claw for every point and possession, whether it was through dumb luck or logic. As the final minutes dwindled down, it was apparent that the game would come down to one defensive possession by either side.
What actually happened? Westbrook was fouled on a 30-foot heave with 2.9 seconds to go by Ball. With the energy in the arena at a fever pitch, Westbrook calmly knocked down all three free throws in a similar fashion to Game 5 in 2014 against the LA Clippers. The Lakers didn’t score afterwards as Oklahoma City found themselves in their second overtime game in a week.
Then the Thunder offense went cold while the defense remained the same. Oklahoma City missed their first four shots — all threes — in overtime and saw Los Angeles slowly inch further away.
Westbrook finished with 26 points on 7-of-30 shooting and 13 assists, five of his seven shots were threes. George finished with 27 points but didn’t take a shot at all in the fourth quarter.