With the G-League playoffs right around the corner, Oklahoma City entered Thursday night having a ticket punch on their minds. The Blue could not seal the deal, instead coming just short in a 116-113 nail-biter to the Bayhawks. The Oklahoma Blue squandered their third straight playoff opportunity with the loss, now watching the race tighten at 8-6. Erie got their victory down Jordan Bell, rallying around others to remain top dogs at 11-3.
Oklahoma City kept active early with 8 of their first 11 points coming right around the rim. High quality looks became a standard for the Blue, continuing to truck along for a 19-7 run in the first 5 and a half minutes. Erie put their name in the ballots to make things single digits but two straight Rob Edwards triples propped this game back up to 12. Continuous efforts from Erie dwindled Oklahoma City’s lead to 36-28 through one — but the damage was done. Antonius Cleveland lit the torch for the Blue swooping in for 6 points (all inside) and 3 assists in the first.
The Bayhawks proved why analysts insert them in the championship conversation in the second. Triples flew from all angles for Erie, converting on 6-of-10 tries in the quarter. That enabled a change of scenery, climbing above Oklahoma City for a 66-62 lead.
The Bayhawks’ offensive activity sent waves through the Lake Erie, engulfing the Blue with a 17-4 run to begin the half. Soon as you realized it, Oklahoma City found themselves down 18. Searching for answers, Rob Edwards got his named called late — he delivered. The 24-year-old threw his squad a lifeline, pushing out five consecutive points in what inevitable sunk this game to single-digits. By the end of the third, this was anyone’s game as Erie only held a 90-83 advantage.
A momentum shift flashed on the menu as Melvin Frazier Jr. cut the deficit to 5, but a 7-0 stretch from Erie elevated things back to 12. Antonius Cleveland briefly reverted back outside, resulting in a made triple, and by the next possession, an on-the-money dime to Rob Edwards — from you guessed it, three. As time ticked Oklahoma City sticked, keeping a hair-length behind Erie for a one-possession game in the final minute. The Bayhawks provided when most needed, expanding their lead to 5 off a Jalen Adams stepback three. Off a blank Blue possession, this game had the inklings of being over — Rob Edwards had none of it. Coming a missed Erie layup, Edwards stopped and popped right at the top of the key, nailing it at 113-111. A free throw contest ensued as Cassius Winston split a pair of free throws before sitting Cleveland at the line —sinking both. Down one with seven seconds, the Blue fouled Winston again after failing to garner an Erie turnover. The guard drained both shots leaving the Blue five seconds for to tie. Off a timeout, Aleksej Pokusevski set out to inbound. The original play had Rob Edwards go around two right corner screens for a potential try, however it took too much time to devolop. Poku settled on dishing the ball to Phil Booth at the right wing. Booth hesitated on his try, stepping in to two defenders before getting rejected on a prayer.
Erie’s fallback for the entire duration came from deep. Their 19 made threes crushed the Blue’s 14 made tries. The main recipient of threes came to guard Jaylen Adams who posted a game-high 26 points heavily lifted by his 8-of-11 prowess from deep. Former Thunder draftee Cassius Winston tended to the cause with his 15 points (5-of-18 FG) using his 4 critical made free throws to punctuate the night.
Oklahoma City shot higher percentages than Erie at every single level on Thursday. The Blue outshot Erie 43.3%-42.0% overall, 40.0%-38.0% from distance, and managed to bury an extra free throw, which can anywhere from 1-3 points. Clearly on paper the original phrase sounds great, but their edge in all areas was not enough for their 15 point spread given up from threes.
Rob Edwards dominated in his second game back from the bench, leading the Blue with 23 points (8-of-14) and 3 rebounds. Edwards’ knack for the outside shot returned with a 6-of-8 outing, yet again proving why he deserved a chance at the next level. The shooting-guard kept Erie on their heels every second he played, even showing off his slashing ability. Antonius Cleveland notched the 20 point club with his 20 tallies (7-of-15 FG) while injecting 4 assists into play. Cleveland’s usage outside has taken a drastic hit as of late, though the forward’s driving capabilities haven’t been a problem, even probing defenders for 3 free throws. Phil Booth cracked double-digits with 15 points (5-of-10 FG) using his bounce around the cup and three triples to tie his season-high. Zavier Simpson took home the all-around award for the second game in a row off 10 points (5-of-12 FG), 7 rebounds, and 8 assists. Simpson kept his shots close with zero shots outside, and it was a success. Drive-and-dish plays are common occasions with Simpson on the floor, and his gift of needling passes through give opponents nightmares. Moses Brown had his worst shooting performance of the season, going a paltry 2-of-10 from the floor. Team’s gameplan around Brown now so it’s no real surprise to see the 7-foot-2 big deal with some inconsistencies. Regardless of shooting, collecting fouls bolstered his night, using 4 made free throws to hit 10 points. Brown accounted for over a third of Oklahoma City’s rebounds snagging 21 of the unit’s 59 grabs. Even more staggering, his 9 offensive boards almost bettered Erie’s whole team (12.) Omer Yurtseven works in silence, this time posting 14 points (6-of-11 FG), 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks in 20 minutes. The 7-footer’s face-up game appeared again, this time swishing home 2-of-3 endeavors. Aleksej Pokusevski only suited for 7 points (3-of-8 FG), 6 rebounds, and 4 turnovers in the game. Despite patchy numbers, it’s a real testament to his polarizing skillset that Coach Gibbs left him in during clutch time.
The Oklahoma City Blue (8-6) finish their regular-season against the league’s best Santa Cruz Warriors (10-3) on Saturday. Oklahoma City holds the key to their fate, as a win immediately emits a playoff birth.