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Thunder surmount 26-point deficit, make history to edge Lakers 123-116

With LeBron James out (leg) on Wednesday, the Oklahoma City Thunder trumped the Los Angeles Lakers 123-115 in their back-to-back closer. For the Thunder, the win sparked a much-needed booster within the franchise as the group tasted their first ounce of victory, currently spotted at 1-4. For the Lakers, their loss is nothing short of a heartbreaker; as they now sit a game below .500 at 2-3.

Wednesday’s contest hosted the return of Russell Westbrook as the guard made his trip back to Bricktown following his move to Los Angeles over the offseason. The Lakers opened up the game through their frontcourt star in Anthony Davis as the forward tallied in an early layup and a dunk to mount a 4-0 lead. Oklahoma City scattered the board with a Darius Bazely three. However, Davis came for seconds marking eight of the team’s first 14 points en route to a 14-3 stint. Bazley riddled out two made buckets for the Thunder’s first 8 points, but the Lakers continued to trade off shots. As both sides swapped in second units, the Lakers found solitude in two DeAndre Jordan lobs before a Kent Bazemore three pushed the game to double-digits. Following a Darius Bazley strip steal, Malik Monk jumped out on the other end, taking Josh Giddey with him for a two-handed poster dunk. The remainder of the first quarter continued the Lakers’ interior success posting their last 10-of-15 points in the frame inside, doubling the Thunder up 41-19 by the end of the first frame. The first quarter sparked an onslaught on the Thunder as they failed to find any rhythm shooting 30.0 percent while the Lakers shot a white-hot 68.0 percent.

Gabriel Deck caught his first wind of points to the tee off the second quarter, but on the other end, the Lakers rekindled the fire, downing a 10-3 run in response coated with alley-oops from Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony, pushing Los Angeles up 25. The Thunder’s offensive struggles took a slow uptick as the second frame progressed, but the interior defense worsened as Malik Monk jammed a reverse alley-oop while guards Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo blew by Oklahoma City’s core at will. The Lakers’ recipe for success netted themselves a 20-point lead in the middle of the frame, elevating to a 26-point, 70-44 advantage a few plays later — making it look as if OKC was down for the count. That was until a closing 12-2 Thunder hot streak ended the half down 72-56, nearly cashing in a buzzer-beating layup from Lu Dort.

All things considered, Oklahoma City logged one of their best shooting halves of the season, going 20-of-46 (43.5%) from the floor while canning 6-of-18 (33.3%) triples. The Thunder opened a can of worms at the charity stripe attempting 16 tries, but a mere 10 makes neutralized the ample attempts. Darius Bazley starred in the first half, raking in 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting, though the 20-year-old was a tad flaky, shanking two top-of-the-key triples against the backboard. 

Los Angeles torched Oklahoma City from the get-go and never let up in the first 24 minutes. The Lakers shot a burly 7-of-14 from beyond the arc in the half, but the true gold had been found in the paint. The Lakers dominated, throwing entry passes inside to clock 20 assists on 29 field goals and 38 points in the paint. For reference, the Thunder recorded 19 assists in their whole body of work on Tuesday. Russell Westbrook encroached triple-double territory with 7 points, 9 rebounds, and 10 assists, while Anthony Davis numbered 15 points and 3 rebounds.

Darius Bazley cashed in on a stepback three for the third quarter’s onset, surging a major run from the boys in Bricktown. The Thunder helped cash in the chips using a pair of Lu Dort free throws, a Derrick Favors layup, and a Josh Giddey floater to dwindle the margin to 13, and after a Lu Dort 26-footer, the game stood at 10. Los Angeles put a temporary bandage on their losses with a Russell Westbrook and one, but a six-point jab from Darius Bazley and Lu Dort turned the game into a toss-up at 81-74. In the 18-7 run, Lu Dort collected nine of the points while Darius Bazley added five of his own. The Lakers’ second gust of points spruced the pot to build a 13-point lead. Oklahoma City’s backcourt in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Ty Jerome, and Josh Giddey hit a three apiece before Shai Gilgeous-Alexander added five-consecutive points to make the game a single-possession inside two minutes. With 40 seconds in the frame, a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander headshot on a drive churned out a Flagrant Penalty 1 to Russell Westbrook and a one-point game. In the final possession, a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stepback three over Russell Westbrook banked in at the buzzer to hand Oklahoma City their first lead of the game at 99-97. Oklahoma City clobbered Los Angeles from distance in the period, shooting 8-of-12 to the Lakers’ 2-of-8 outing. 

A Russell Westbrook fadeaway notched the game at 97-all to start before a Josh Giddey and-one floater brought the Thunder into the century mark. After altering buckets, Giddey sunk another floater to reclaim the three-point lead before a fastbreak left-wing Kenrich Williams three elevated the lead to six. Oklahoma City’s hot hand grew to 108-100 off of a 7-0 stint, and at six minutes — the Thunder kept ahead 108-102. Sides placed empty possessions before a hot potato session left Isaiah Roby out for a post turnaround at the left baseline, banking the shot in to grow the margin. Russell Westbrook garnered a trip to the foul line after getting a man airborne under the basket. Following a split pair of free throws, Anthony Davis clawed an offensive rebound in a village of Thunder members, getting swatted at the apex by Darius Bazley. After the Lakers retained the board, Anthony Davis regrouped for an inside basket, only for Lu Dort to counteract points with a downhill layup. As the game digressed into the final two minutes, Russell Westbrook made a slash on Lu Dort, resulting in a blocking foul. Mark Daigneault pulled his first coach’s challenge of the season at the whistle, ultimately being ruled successful, keeping Oklahoma City’s second timeout and a jump ball. Off a Lakers jump ball, the Lakers shanked their initial shot, but an offensive rebound by Russell Westbrook leading to him hiding inside for a close shot dwindled the game to three points. After a miss from the Thunder, a Rajon Rondo drive sliced the game to one with 50 seconds on tap. 

After Mark Daigneault’s first timeout in the final two minutes, Josh Giddey crossed the timeline, slashing from the right wing to find a rolling Derrick Favors for a layup with 30 seconds to go. In Los Angeles’ potential final drive, Russell Westbrook was pegged with the basketball instantly gunning off a quick-trigger three that shanked off of the backboard. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander received the ball off the miss, but following a trap at the back-right corner, Darius Bazley was entrusted with advancing the ball, but with a lengthy behind-the-back move, an 8-second count was ruled. Los Angeles’ second attempt mirrored much of the first as Malik Monk sized up Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at the top-of-the-key before air balling the jumper, swinging the ball back to Oklahoma City with 8 seconds remaining. In the Thunder’s chance to seal the deal, Josh Giddey threw an inbound pass to Kenrich Willaims, however, Williams slipped, leading to Carmelo Anthony receiving a hand-wrapped top-of-the-key three, air balling the attempt. In Giddey’s second opportunity to check in the ball, he found an open Lu Dort. Following a foul, Dort drained both free throws to ice the game at five. 

In the game’s final 3 seconds, Darius Bazley intercepted an inbound pass from Rajon Rondo, finding himself with a wide-open lane. Bazley took the parted sea to its fullest, cocking back a two-handed slam before swinging off the rim with a second to go. Russell Westbrook did not take the matter lightly as the 32-year-old bumped into Baze, starting a back-and-forth exchange that left Westbrook prematurely hitting the tunnel. Westbrook had later been ejected for his encounter, yielding Shai Gilgeous-Alexander a free throw before the buzzer sounded with Oklahoma City up 123-115.     

“We haven’t covered that [holding in the final seconds] and that’s on me,” said Mark Daigneault. “I’m taking that one. We’re trying to juice our team with confidence. If there’s anyone to blame on that, it’s me.”

The game-ending discourse involving Russell Westbrook sparked a mixed reaction around the Paycom Center, but at the final horn — enthusiasm incased the building. 

Oklahoma City’s win tied the franchise’s largest come-from-behind victory at 26 points as the group managed to surmount a 70-44 deficit to outscore the Lakers 79-45 to close the game.

The Thunder’s statement of a second-half propelled all three scoring statlines to their best of the season. Oklahoma City wielded a clean 50 percent slate from the floor, shooting 43-of-86 while shooting a precise 40.5 percent from distance going 15-of-37. To top things off, the Thunder hounded the Lakers at the charity stripe en route to shooting 22-of-29 at the line. Bricktown’s passing netted 21 assists throughout the evening, but unlike games of the past, a centralized web of distributors aligned, making the offense look a lot more fluid than usual. 

For the Lakers, their tale of two halves saw the group shoot 61.7 percent in the first half, before falling off of a cliff to shoot below 40 percent in the second half, diminishing to a 4-of-21 (19.0%) sample from deep. Los Angeles resembled that of the Showtime Days in the first 24 minutes recording 20 assists rooted firmly in the fastbreak, but a half-court style of play cut off looks downhill, leading to a plethora of missed jumpers. In theory, forcing the Thunder to defend inside may have ended this game for good as Anthony Davis feasted in the paint going 6-of-8 in the first half, but essentially cut off from looks shooting 3-of-5 in the closing frames. Davis led the Lakers’ troops tallying 30 points (12-of-22 FG) and 8 rebounds across 37 minutes while Russell Westbrook accrued a quadruple-double clocking in 20 points (8-of-20 FG), 14 rebounds, 13 assists, and 10 turnovers in 35 minutes.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander posted a team-high 27 points to go along with 9 rebounds and 5 assists. Gilgeous-Alexander found his stride at all ranges, shooting 7-of-19 overall, 5-of-11 on threes, and 8-of-10 at the line to loop in defenders. Gilgeous-Alexander’s halfcourt play kept the Lakers on edge from the tip as the 23-year-old found his stride stepping back and scurried right past the first wall of defenders on a consistent basis. 

Darius Bazley spelled out a brief pregame presser for the game saying, “I got a lot of work to do. That’s it.” Bazley put in the work Wednesday, lighting the Thunder’s spark early into the game, and sounding off the exclamation point. Baze’s end stat line garnered the forward 20 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 4 steals in 32 minutes. Bazley’s shooting struggles have been a talking point dating back to last season, but taking shots was no issue for the 21-year-old throughout the night going 8-of-14 and 4-of-8 from deep. Baze spewed out a few chalky shots, including backboard grazing triples, but it didn’t stop him from taking big shots and slashing in at will.

Josh Giddey accrued his first career double-double Wednesday, ending the night with 18 points and 10 assists. Giddey flourished with floaters for the second night in a row turning the corner on defenders before pushing up shots 10-feet out. The Aussie’s play penetrating amplified his passing ability making read-after-read passing to the perimeter. Daigneault entrusted Giddey as a primary playmaker in clutch time as the 19-year-old made the game-clinching drive-and-dish pass to Derrick Favors while gunning out both inbound passes in the final 10 seconds.     

Lu Dort managed a heavy task against Russell Westbrook during the night, but the third-year guard also contributed as a slasher. Dort ended the night with 17 points (5-of-12 FG) and 6 rebounds in 34 minutes, and though the three-ball was shaky again (1-of-3 3PT), his strength around the cup netted him six free throws, hitting them all.

Derrick Favors checked all the boxes for Oklahoma City’s five spot and then some. Anthony Davis had been torching centers Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Isaiah Roby throughout the game, but Favors did a solid job preventing AD from getting force-fed in the fourth. If those services were not enough, Favors became the primary receiver of points off the roll as Josh Giddey and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander utilized his screen setting the whole night. As a result of the open looks, Favors ended the game going 7-of-8, ending the night with 15 points and 7 rebounds.   

The Oklahoma City Thunder (1-4) will take a two-day hiatus before heading to the west coast to face the Golden State Warriors (4-0) in a shot at redemption. 

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