The Oklahoma City Thunder stomped into the Staples Center Monday with victory on their mind as center Al Horford was back to bluster the starting core. The Thunder put up a valiant effort against the AD-less Lakers, restraining the defending champs until the final buzzer of the contest. For Oklahoma City, this loss pushed them back to 10-13 on the season, booting them to the 14th seed in the West. The Lakers moved up to 19-6 in the win loss column after their victory, putting them a fingernail’s length away from the possessing the best record in the NBA, currently held by the 19-6 Jazz.
Oklahoma City rallied around second-year forward Darius Bazley upon the onset of the game. Bazley’s aggression in the first period netted 7 points and 4 rebounds in the first six minutes of play— and a whopping 12 points and 6 rebounds by the first quarters closure.
Bazely and company brought a unique flare of offense to kickstart the night for Oklahoma City, shooting 50% from both the field and distance— but their lockdown defense is what set them for the rest of the game.
Thunder defenders blanketed the Lakers early on defense, resulting in eight turnovers in the first quarter of play, a stat that the Lakers bottled up to just nine in the team’s first face-off in mid-January. This lack of ball-security launched the Lakers into panic mode early, firing just 8-18 (41%) from the field and a putrid 1-of-6 (16.7%) to start outside— bringing the Thunder on quick 33-26 lead by the second quarter.
Los Angeles made an early breakthrough in the paint for quarter number two, highlighted by Lebron James’ 11 points in the quarter, but levitating back to the three-point line cost them big time. The Lakers missed a string of 13 shots straight to take themselves out of the driver’s seat (finishing 4-18 from distance by half), but a constant presence at the line alleviated their struggling shooting numbers— as L.A.’s 16-17 performance at the line put them in the hole by only four at 60-56.
Oklahoma City’s inside-oriented offense was shut down commencing the second half as the team opened on an 1-11 shooting slump, one in which the Lakers took full advantage of. Los Angeles pushed the quarter out to a 10-2 run, and at their peak in the period, had themselves up by seven points, scoring 16 of their 20 points in the paint. The Thunder caught wind of the defending champs’ tendencies late in the quarter, forcing them to shoot 1-8 from downtown, stirring up a 17-2 run in the process— to bake up an 84-76 lead.
Montrezl Harrell took charge in the final period, running up 7 of his team’s first 13 points, bringing heavy-duty reinforcements in Dennis Schroder and Lebron James to cut the deficit to one with just under 5 minutes to go. Oklahoma City had no true number one option to start the fourth, but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stepped up to the plate in times of ruin. The third-year guard buried two crucial threes and made a dolphin-save to conclude the fourth, but his best trick came with just seconds remaining in regulation.
Los Angeles propped themselves on a two-point lead with 35 seconds remaining, and a quick SGA miss and foul set Dennis Schroder to the line with just 12 seconds to spare. The former-Thunder connected on his first attempt, but shanked his second right iron to leave the door open. Shai took the ball full-span of the court for what appeared to be an easy right-handed layup, but a wrist smack on Schroder’s chasedown block made him earn the points at the line—or so it seemed.
Official review upon the play deciphered that Gilgeous-Alexander was cleanly denied of the ball, resulting in an overturned play and a jump ball at center-court with just 8.8 seconds to go. Darius Bazley stalked up to Lebron James for the tip, and securely tipped the ball to SGA for a potential last shot. SGA jogged up the floor and left without many options pump faked from the right wing to create a shot, miraculously Kentavious Caldwell-Pope jolted up in the air, giving the greenlight to jump into contact and extend this game at the line. Free-throws one and two bristled their way inside the cylinder leading to one final free throw to determine the game. Shai stepped up pounded the ball against the hardwood—elevated for the shot—and it was good!
In overtime, the well-tenured Lakers exploited the Thunder on Harrell and James post spins to take a 7-0 in the first three minutes, and their was no route back on Harrell and Lebron James post spins— Lakers win it 119-112.
The Thunder held strong throughout the night in their 20-point trio in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Darius Bazley, and Hamidou Diallo. Shai kept his composure all night as his late game heroics was a sample of what he put on the entire night, running the cards with a game-high 29 points (10-25 FG), 7 rebounds and 10 assists. Darius Bazley improved on his hot start totaling 21 points (7-21 FG) to pair with his career-high of 16 rebounds. Hamidou Diallo posted a quiet double-double on the night with his 20 points on 8-of-17 shooting to side with his 11 rebounds.
The bench pairing of Justin Jackson and Kenrich Williams boded well with the Thunder’s regular starters. Jackson had his best night of the year dropping 14 points on a team high 60% on shooting, while Kenrich Williams made a mark with 7 points, but more importantly his 8 rebounds, 6 of which came on the offensive end.
Though their were major bright spots on the offensive end, their defense kept them in the game, holding the Lakers to just 9-of-38 from deep by the night’s encapsulation— that rate marks just 23.7%.
Oklahoma City will have their shot at redemption as they will face off in Wednesday’s series closer.