Entering Monday’s Blue-Wolves matchup, there were some familiar faces trying to make statements to Oklahoma City. Wolves bigs Zylan Cheatham and Tyler Cook both had been a members of the Thunder’s organization up until December, in which Cheatham was waived upon arrival while Cook was given the exit door, being traded for Vincent Edwards. Despite a tough contest from the Iowa Wolves, the Oklahoma City Blue took home the prize 128-122. This Blue victory marks the sixth straight victory for the squad propelling themselves to 7-1 on the season, making them a lock for the second seed in the league after tonight’s Delaware Blue Coats (7-0) vs. Erie Bayhawks (6-1) game. For the Iowa Wolves, this was another demoralizing loss to tack on their board of defeats, still remaining winless at 0-8.
The Blue exploited the Wolves inside right out the gate. Moses Brown and Aleksej Pokusevski were all over the paint, scoring the first six points for Oklahoma City — but Iowa was right there with them. The Wolves countered right back with a stretch of their own to contest for the lead that as a result changed hands 7 separate times by the six minute mark. A mid-quarter run by the Blue pushed Iowa down as much as 8 in the period, and both sides stagnated for a 34-27 OKC edge through one. Iowa got hot shooting 55% from the floor and 3-of-6 from downtown, yet their clumsy mistakes with the ball cost them. The Blue shot a mighty 52% on the period, using Iowa’s 5 turnovers to net the team 11 points of easy looks.
Physicality defined the Blue’s play in the early goings of the 2nd, forcing contested shots, bad passes, and making scrappy plays at the ball to set the tone. Forward Jaylen Hoard carried the tenacity over to offense side, packing together drive after drive to get points inside. In retaliation to Hoard, the Wolves began cramming the paint, enabling shooters in Ty Jerome and Omer Yurtseven to couple in triples. Oklahoma City piled as much as a 17 point advantage in their quick burst, finding even more comfort when bigs Aleksej Pokusevski and Moses Brown checked in. The Blue coasted to a 71-54 lead by halftime as the squad united making flashy passes galore to get baskets. Zavier Simpson pieced together a pair of needle-threading bounce passes in transition — but Poku took the cake. The 7-footer likely found himself on Sportscenter for the second night in a row — throwing a no-look alley-oop pass off to Moses Brown, in efforts to save the basketball, following it up possession later with a behind-the-back no look to Brown.
Iowa continued to erase the deficit in the first segment of the half, going on a 17-7 run to shrink the gap to a one possession game. The Wolves kept pouring on buckets in bunches reclaiming the lead for the first time since the opening minutes of play. The Blue without Brown or Pokusevski struggled going 4-of-14 (29%) in the first 7 minutes but Jaylen Hoard and company got their acts together at the perfect time to prevent the bleeding any further, closing out the period 5-of-9 (56%). Even with the Blue’s quick jolt at a seemingly good time, it was no match for the Wolves’ 12 minutes of decorated basketball, going 13-of-26 (50%) to enter the fourth up 100-99.
Oklahoma City has never shied away from the spotlight this year — Monday was no different. The Blue cooked up eight straight points to start the quarter off of Antonius Cleveland and Ty Jerome baskets, but it was not enough to shake the Wolves. The Blue battled with the Wolves the entire duration of the fourth, marking the first time the team faced a nail-biter in five games facing 5 lead changes and 2 ties in the period. The game was tied 116-116 when the Pokusevski-Brown connection was reignited, giving the Blue the lead off an Moses Brown layup. Next play, the Wolves missed on a floater, resulting in Ty Jerome strolled up the court to hit Aleksej Pokusevski for a one of the biggest shots of the night — a left wing triple. Immediately after, Antonius Cleveland helped drill in the 7-0 Blue run when he initiated contact inside and buried his pair of free throws. With just over a minute to go the Wolves pounced onto a 4-0 run to make it a one possession game, but a Moses Brown tip in and a Pokusevski block sealed Iowa’s fate.
The Iowa Wolves rallied themselves around the pack leaders for the full-course of the game. Four members of the team posted point outbursts of 20+ while just one member fell into the single-digit club. Lindell Wiggington became Iowa’s spark plug, and eventual leader, off the bench finishing with a game-high 28 points on 11-of-18 shooting. Ex-Blue member Tyler Cook sent a statement on Monday piling on 26 points (8-of-15 FG) and 9 rebounds on Moses Brown’s head. Former five-star and Kentucky product Isaiah Briscoe kept his group in check finishing the game with 25 points (9-of-21 FG), 7 rebounds, and 7 assists. Charlie Brown Jr. gave the Blue grief, also tacking on 20 points on 7-of-16 from the field.
The Oklahoma City Blue had their biggest palette all season when it came to scoring on Monday. The team fired off 46 points in the paint, 51 points off threes, and 15 made free throws (which can equal 1,2, or 3 points,) to get seven of their ten active players in double-figures. Aleksej Pokusevski ruled the day, finishing with 13 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists across 29 minutes. Even though Poku’s scoring totals on Sunday outmatched that shown vs. Iowa, there’s a standing case as to why he may have been even better in this contest. Pokusevski actively looked to attack towards the basket — the entire game. This first real glimpse into the forward’s inside game created multiple tries around the basket for not just himself, but his teammates. The Pokusevski-Brown duo was real as 4 of the Serbian Assassins 5 assists resulted in Moses Brown made baskets (including his Sportscenter-esque plays in the second,) the lone assist remaining? It went to the other big in Omer Yurtseven. When the 7-footer wasn’t looking to attack inside, his eyes were set in from downtown, injecting 3 outside shots on the Wolves — even using screens to get his shots off. Pokusevski’s other half in Moses Brown commanded the team with a double-double in 22 points (9-of-14 FG) and 14 rebounds. Though this may be the first time the 21-year-old has been outscored by his matchup (Cook had 26) he shot selection ventured out into alley-oops and moving shots, which has been an unscathed territory to this point. Antonius Cleveland rattled off 21 points (6-of-11 FG) effortlessly while flashing his strength inside to the tune of a team-high 5 free throws. Jaylen Hoard expanded his range on 3-of-4 three point shooting en route to a 19 points performance, being one of the pivotal reasons why the Blue stood a chance in the Wolves’ major third-quarter run. Ty Jerome operated from outside for the second -straight game pitching in 16 points of 3 made long-balls, but his defense is what stuck out. Jerome stayed patient on Iowa’s guards, baiting in particular Isaiah Briscoe into four easy strips. Zavier Simpson ran way with 11 points on a shaky 3-of-10 rate, but he more than made up with it carrying 9 assists on exquisite passes in the fastbreak. Rob Edwards has essentially become the G-League version of Carsen Edwards when he led Purdue’s to the Elite Eight, Edwards added on 4 more threes to his name off only 7 attempts, ending with a grand total of 15 points. Edwards’ ability to gather and square-up for shots has been a marvel to watch — I’d assume it looks the same to NBA executives as well.
The piping-hot Blue (7-1) will have one day of rest before suiting up to play the Greensboro Swarm (2-5), commanded by Thunder training-camp attendee Admiral Schofield.
To listen to Sunday’s audio recaps of Sunday’s Blue-Vipers and Thunder-Cavs games you can take a listen here, and make sure to stay on the lookout for Monday’s Blue-Wolves and Thunder-Heat recaps!