With the debut of small-forward Josh Hall, the Oklahoma City Blue were able to strike the Kevin Porter Jr. led Rio Grande Valley Vipers 125-114. Oklahoma City’s placement in the standings now hangs on the fate of the Delaware Blue Coats — as their downfall would move the 6-1 Blue in a four-way tie for the league’s top record. With the loss, Rio Grande dropped to 3-5 in the standings, moving themselves 1.5 games back of a coveted playoff spot.
The Blue drew first blood yet again on Sunday, scoring the first seven points of the contest. Oklahoma City’s early shooting netted them a 17-3 lead, but a late 27-12 injection by the Vipers struck them a 30-29 lead through one. Two-way forward Josh Hall made his debut for the Blue in the first, but it was the team’s first-round pick in Zavier Simpson who piloted the team early, scoring 12 points in the opening quarter on 5-of-7 shooting.
The Vipers poked the bear in Moses Brown in the second quarter. Brown shot just 2-of-8 on the onset, but two fast finishes inside put his guys back on the map — one of which, Aleksej Pokusevski. The 7-footer made a mixtape out of the period, firing off a no-look jump-pass, scooping in a reverse layup, burying a triple, and played hide-and-seek with the basketball, spinning the ball around his body before finishing a layup in transition. The Blue’s spread out efforts were good for a double-digit 62-52 at half, scoring 42 of their points inside.
Oklahoma City gravitated inside to begin the third, where they churned out their first 24 of 27 points. In response, the Vipers tried to validate themselves through the three, but it only dug them in an even larger pit converting on just 5 shots. In light of this, Oklahoma City staked a 16 point lead with three minutes left in the period, and not much changed, being up 95-79 heading into the fourth.
Rio Grande slipped back to the three tacking on a few early deep-balls, Rob Edwards had a response. Edwards, caught fire at full tilt again outside, spewing in two back-to-back threes to cut off any venom left from the Vipers. Oklahoma City saw their lead climb to as much as 23 in the fourth, but settled on a 125-114 victory.
The Vipers lived and died by the three-ball — making 72 of their 114 points (62%) from deep, but having to fire off 56 attempts to get there. Two-way player Broderic Thomas kept the Blue honest, tallying a game-high 27 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Houston’s highly regarded shooting-guard Kevin Porter Jr. got stuffed on Sunday, posting 19 points on a bland 6-of-20 shooting.
The Oklahoma City Blue lived on the glass, and the rest of the offense spoke for itself. The Blue outrebounded the Vipers 72-39, having almost as many offensive rebounds (25) as the Vipers boards on defense (31.) Oklahoma City’s dominance coming down with the ball fired up play inside — finishing the game with 74 points in the paint. The Blue’s first-round pick in Zavier Simpson gas lit points off penetrations, swooping in for 24 points on mainly runners and baby-hooks, in addition to garnering a near triple-double with 11 rebounds, and 7 assists. Thunder assignee Aleksej Pokusevski showed the world why Sam Presti traded up to snag him on Sunday. The 17th overall pick produced a double-double with 19 points (8-of-16 FG) and 10 rebounds, to go along with his 4 assists, in 29 minutes. Outside of his Sportscenter plays in the second, the 7-footer looked to have found his confidence back not shying away from the three, all-and-all finishing with 3 triples. The Thunder’s other assignee in Ty Jerome scoped out the entire floor for his 14 points (5-of-15 FG) and 6 assists. Jerome may have not put this game to bed on a game-winner, but his assessment of the Vipers’ defense early sure did. Jerome visualized the floor from a 94-foot perspective, spotting out any discrepancy and the defense and exploiting it. Jerome cast away two limitless range threes on the day while banging home a corner triple heavily congested by the Vipers. Moses Brown started out slow on the game, but got his act back together for 13 points (6-of-13 FG) and 16 rebounds, outrebounding Rio Grande’s entire team on the offensive boards 11-6. Omer Yurtseven filled in for Brown when necessary, collecting his daily-double with 14 points (6-8 FG) and 13 rebounds. Antonius Cleveland has been a perimeter-centric player since the beginning of the bubble, but he made a dunk contest out of today, keying in 13 points with a one-handed flush and a windmill. Jaylen Hoard and Rob Edwards also found themselves in double-digits with Hoard notching 11 points almost entirely inside while Edwards hammered home 12 off of relentless attempts from downtown.
The Oklahoma City Blue (6-1) will potentially have a chance to cement themselves as the league’s top dog tomorrow as they take on the last winless team in the Iowa Wolves (0-7.)
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