ORLANDO, Florida- The Oklahoma City Thunder concludes the regular season inside the bubble with an overtime loss to the Los Angeles Clippers at 107-103.
Now, this wasn’t the Thunder vs. Clippers matchup NBA fans may have been anticipating, but with playoff seeding and matchups clinched for majority of the contending teams in Orlando, this game had little significance calling for starting rotation players for the Clippers to remain on the bench and big names for OKC like Chris Paul to sit tonight out.
Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverley, Landry Shamet, Marcus Morris and Lou Williams all remained out of the lineup for the Clippers as LA snagged the No. 2 seed in the West facing the Dallas Mavericks in round one of the playoffs.
Meanwhile, for the Thunder, Chris Paul was deemed inactive for precautionary purposes due to a left hand sprain, while Abdel Nader was inactive due to tingling in his right elbow he noticed before the game. Billy Donovan says he anticipates both will be available for Game 1 against the Rockets on Tuesday.
“Even though we came up a little short, I thought we played really well,” Donovan said following the game. “We had good looks but didn’t shoot the ball particularly well. It’s just great to see those guys [second unit] evolve and develop through games like this.”
Lu Dort, however, remained out of the lineup after being diagnosed yesterday with a right knee sprain. Dort collided with Jae Crowder during the Thunder’s exhilarating 116-115 win over the Heat on Wednesday.
With the Thunder officially paired with the Houston Rockets for round one of the playoffs, it was all about the second unit for OKC tonight as guys like Hamidou Diallo showcased career-high scoring and made big plays to keep the Thunder fighting for an additional five minutes of overtime at the end of regulation.
“Hami had a lot to do with us playing faster, attacking and getting to the paint,” Donovan said. “I thought he played well and made some good decisions. He could have had a much bigger scoring night, but he played very explosive.”
A rotation consisting of Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Steven Adams, Terrance Ferguson and Dennis Schröder took the floor to start the game, but it was guys like Diallo, Deonte Burton, Andre Roberson and Darius Bazley who got the most run in for the Thunder.
Diallo would go on to pick up 27 points and 11 rebounds; a career high for the young veteran.
“I just went out there and played the game,” Diallo said. “Shots fell, and this is what I worked on. I just have to keep working, stay humble, don’t get too high or too low, and just keep staying at it.
Not only did the second unit get plenty of action, but tonight also served as the return of Dennis Schröder to the bubble after his exit on Aug. 3 for the birth of his second child.
“It was great to have Dennis back,” Diallo said. “He’s a great point guard, great leader, and we missed him. He had the situation with his family, which we understood, but it’s great to have him back because he brings that energy.”
Schröder and Gilgeous-Alexander would pair up as a dominant duo to start the game as the two combined for 30 points in the absence of Chris Paul, but despite being out of the bubble for nearly two weeks, Schröder felt energized and spoke on the progression he kept going even while he was at home with his family.
“When I was outside the bubble, I stayed ready,” Schröder said. “I kept working, and I felt confident. Being away for six games is tough, but I was practicing and working out. Now it’s go time.”
With both the Thunder and the Clippers not really having much to play for, it showed on the offensive end as the Thunder finished shooting just 36 percent from the floor going 14-44 from downtown (32 percent).
With the conclusion of the eight seeding games the Thunder had mapped out, preparations for the playoffs are in full swing as OKC looks to go to battle in a seven-game series against Russell Westbrook, James Harden and the Houston Rockets on Tuesday.
“The Rockets are a good team,” Schröder said. “They’re a unique team with no bigs, but we have to be locked in. We can’t give them anything easy, and if we do that, we have a really good chance.”
The Thunder and Rockets with come face-to-face on Tuesday, Aug. 18, at 6:30 p.m. ET (5:30 p.m. CT) for game one of the 2020 NBA Playoffs.