Oklahoma City – The Thunder once again hosted the Clippers for the second time in 3 nights and looked to start a winning streak before hitting the road.
They came into the game knowing it would be different from Tuesday night because Paul George was returning to the lineup for the Clippers so they were going to have to raise their play. And that they did…kind of.
They pretty much played the same way they did on Tuesday night to start the game except they were hitting shots. The same ball and player movement was there with the same physical and active defense. Had the Clippers on their heals on both ends of the floor and then the second quarter happened.
Thunder got up by as many as 18 in the first by playing excellent basketball just to play the complete opposite way in the second quarter. Less movement which led to more one on one play, careless plays, and weren’t as locked in on defense. That allowed the Clippers to get back into the game and eventually take the lead into halftime.
Whatever head coach Mark Daigneault said the the team at halftime though worked because they came out the same way they did in the first quarter and grabbed the lead back from the Clippers. From that point on it was back and forth for the rest of the game. Things got a little dicey when the Clippers through a box and one at Shai Gilgeous-Alexander but it didn’t matter because the Thunder played near perfect basketball down the stretch and made all the right plays.
They were the more poised team and it looked like they were the team with all of the experience and depth.
Thunder pulled out their second straight victory over the Clippers with a 118-105 win.
Here are the 3 reasons for the win:
Thunder picked up right where they left off in this category. They forced 19 turnovers on Tuesday night and forced Thursday night against the Clippers. They have really shown signs of that top 10 defense they had last season and it’s been a great sight to see after the first 3 games.
The defense was swarming. physical, and very aggressive. There was a little more fouling tonight but wasn’t too much to put the Clippers on the line a lot.
When they play this style of defense, continuously in the passing lanes, contesting everything, and great point of attack, they’re tough to beat no matter who is on the floor. If they continue to do it going forward they will win more games than people thought.
The Ball Went In
They won Tuesday night but by looking at the boxscore you wouldn’t be able to tell because they shot horribly. They got moved the ball well, had a lot of player movement, and got great looks but couldn’t get anything to go in.
That wasn’t the case tonight.
It was only a matter of time before the team caught a rhythm and those good looks start to go in. They got the same looks as the other night but instead of shooting 38.2% from the floor and 13.3% from the field, they shot 49.4% from the floor and 44.7% from 3 on high volume. This wasn’t a night where they got hot either, it was a night where they were playing inside out and setting up their 3 point shots by drive and kicks.
If they can combine the good shooting, because they are a much improved shooting team, with their very active defense, they will be tough to beat every single night.
Very Poised Play
The Thunder are the youngest team in the league and it would be easy for them to fold in close games. In fact, I mentioned how after most losses this season that we would be talking about how they were just a young team that doesn’t really know how to win yet.
That wasn’t the case tonight.
There were three main times that they could have folded on Thursday night and didn’t which shows great improvement in their development. The first was in the second quarter and parts of the third quarter where they squandered an 18 point lead with the Clippers taking the lead into halftime. They could have let the Clipper lead grow and now come back because they are the more experienced team but they didn’t.
The second was when Shai started the third quarter on the bench due to foul trouble. Thunder came into the half down 7 and their best player on the bench. They could have easily given up and let the Clipper lead grow. They didn’t. In fact they had a one point lead when Shai came back into the game. Winning the minutes your best player is on the bench is a characteristic that most winning teams have and that’s just another positive for the Thunder moving forward.
The third time the Thunder could have folded was when the Clippers threw a box and one at Shai and tried to effectively take him out the game. It didn’t work because he scored the very first play they did it. Then they made the right read on pretty much every other play after that.
This not only shows how poised the Thunder are but also shows that Shai doesn’t have to do it all at the end of games for them to win. They have a lot of trust in each other and it showed perfectly tonight.
The Thunder were led by Shai who had another great night on both ends of the floor with 24 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals while Lu Dort finally broke out of his slump with a great performance of 21 points and 4 assists. Aaron Wiggins has put together a supple of really solid games and was no different tonight with 11 points and 6 rebounds while Tre Mann was solid with 14 points. Aleksej Pokusevski was great off the bench in what was his best game with 15 points and 6 rebounds while Kenrich Williams was his normal self and added 12 points.
The Thunder will look to make it three in a row when they hit the road for a quick one against the Mavericks on Saturday.