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Thunder falter in closing minutes, plummet to Clippers 99-94

With Oklahoma City missing the services of Lu Dort (knee), the Oklahoma City Thunder squandered a nailbiter to the Los Angeles Clippers, falling from the mark 99-94. For the Thunder, the gut-wrencher sticks them back to the bottom of the conference at 1-5 while in the Clippers camp, they bottled the night with their second win of the year at 2-4. 

Mark Daigneault shook up the rotation, sliding Darius Bazley to the three with Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Derrick Favors pairing up in the frontcourt — the benefits appeared from the get-go. Oklahoma City hit the board first with a 6-foot bankshot from Darius Bazley, but the true rewards piled in off the pick-and-roll. The Thunder jumped out to a 9-5 lead to open the night almost solely through Shai Gilgeous-Alexander drives as the guard navigated inside for a layup before finding Derrick Favors for five points, one bucket being the center’s first three of the year. As Los Angeles struggled to find the basket, Oklahoma City surged out to another tangent as six Darius Bazley points coupled with a Jeremiah Robinson-Earl floater pushed the Thunder out to a 17-8 lead, and following an SGA driving layup — the lead inflated to 11. Both sides felt each other out for the remainder of the frame as the Thunder’s lead wavered around double-digits to close the frame, up 23-14. Oklahoma City grazed the 40-percent mark in the quarter, shooting 9-of-22 (40.9%) overall, though they struggled immensely from distance, going 2-of-7. For the Clippers, they couldn’t buy a bucket as they shot a paltry 6-of-27 (22.2%) while being a nonfactor from three to the tune of a 1-of-12 clip. 

Oklahoma City forced Los Angeles’ hand to kick off the second as the Clippers inserted small forward Justise Winslow at the five to combat the Thunder’s influence. Paul George tallied his first points in the contest to start the second, but the double-digit lead resurfaced for the Thunder with an 8-0 stint, and a 15-point lead. Aleksej Pokusevski starred in this period as the Serb converted on a 25-foot pull-up, following the conversion up with a tip-in on the next possession. Poku’s reign continued past the push as the 19-year-old threw a cross-court moving left-handed hook pass over two defenders leading to a left-corner triple from Theo Maledon. The Clippers continued to exchange buckets as the quarter progressed, however, Poku continued to inflict some wounds, unleashing a chasedown block on Eric Bledsoe before hitting two layups by the five-minute mark. As Poku’s role diminished, the Clippers’ window of opportunity arose, however, even with a multitude of open jumpers — they could not convert — that became a two-way street for the Thunder, as well. With the stalemate, it took until the final two minutes for any type of push, it came from the Clippers camp. Los Angeles pioneered a slow but steady 10-3 run in the winding moments for a single-possession game, but a Josh Giddey left-wing hit pushed the lead back up to six. After blowing by Darius Bazely from the left baseline, Paul George took a face shot from Jeremiah Robinson-Earl while elevating for a jam, after review — the play was ruled a common whistle. In the half’s final 4.8 seconds, Josh Giddey ran full-length of the floor before, rifling a zip pass to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the left corner with 0.7 seconds to go, in SGA’s jumper, the 23-year-old rocketed a moonshot that bounced in-and-out. At the buzzer, Oklahoma City stood up 44-40.

Oklahoma City struggled from the floor in the opening half, shooting 17-of-50 (34.0%) and a flaky 5-of-22 (22.7%) on threes. The Thunder gravitated toward one-man runs in the first 24 utilizing Darius Bazley’s 8-point first quarter and Aleksej Pokusevski’s 9-point period to stay on the high side. 

Los Angeles created a hefty amount of open shots during the half, but never quite found their stride. The Clippers shot a mere 15-of-50 (30.0%) in the half, declining even further, going 3-of-21 (14.3%) on triples. Los Angeles struggled to play through one player early as Terrance Mann was the only member to etch double figures at 10, and with their star in Paul George going just 1-of-9 for 5 points — their point distribution was an enigma. 

The opening stages of the second half let loose a batch of back-and-forth baskets, but Josh Giddey tacked on a highlight. While driving from the foul line, Giddey took two Clippers on a moving spin, scooping a left-handed layup up-and-in to carry on some momentum. On the following drive, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl picked Paul George’s pocket up top for a steal, and two free throws off of a clear path foul. Giddey’s mini-stint netted the Thunder a 7-2 run, and a seven-point lead by the first timeout. A mini 5-0 sting from Paul George reintroduced a single-possession cushion for the Thunder, but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander looked to inflate it, canning a right-wing sidestep over Reggie Jackson before Josh Giddey added a pair of free throws for a nine-point game. After swapping a pair of empty possessions, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander revved up another sidestep, taking Luke Kennard the top-of-the-key for a nothing but net trifecta to go up a baker’s dozen. Luke Kennard took offense to the Thunder’s as the wing hit two right-wing triples before a Paul George shot titled the scale to 66-63, only for Darius Bazley and two Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stepbacks to sway the game back to 11. By the end of the third, Oklahoma City led 74-66. 

Oklahoma City rolled out a bench unit of Theo Maledon, Josh Giddey, Kenrich Williams, Aleksej Pokusevki, and Mike Muscala for the fourth quarter’s onset, the move proved to be costly. After two minutes of silence, Luke Kennard drilled a transition three before Isaiah Hartenstein found Nicolas Batum in the fastbreak for another three, forcing a Thunder timeout while keeping the game close at 74-72. Mark Daigneault swapped SGA in for Pokusevski following the timeout, finding Josh Giddey on a 15-foot floater off of the inbound and Mike Muscala on a three on the very next play. Paul George edged the game back down to two with five-consecutive points, however, Theo Maledon rose up for a moving push-shot before adding a reverse layup off a Josh Giddey steal and bounce pass. The Aussie showed up big time seconds before the midway point adding a 16-foot pullup to the board, extending the lead to 85-77 with six to go. Both sides’ stars went at it in the clutch as Reggie Jackson and Paul George nailed mid-range jumpers while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey converted on a midrange spin jumper, and a right-handed layup, respectively with four to go. After a Reggie Jackson free throw, Paul George looked to slice the game to five off of a right-handed layup, however, Darius Bazley rose up at the rim to reject George, keeping the lead to seven at the three-minute mark. Off a Clippers timeout, the Thunder erased yet another layup from Reggie Jackson, and on the other end — Josh Giddey found a soft roll off a free-throw-line jumper. Paul George erupted with his team’s back against the wall, canning two right-wing triples in a 30 secondso cut the lead to 3, and after a botched George drive, Luke Kennard lined up for a right-wing three — tie game. Josh Giddey looked the insert a dagger on the other end, however, a stagnation placed the ball in Darius Bazley’s hand at the left baseline. Bazley drove baseline with the ball, harvesting a whistle and a Tyronn Lue timeout off an unsuccessful challenge. After a series of dribbles, Baze shanked his first free throw before nailing the second — Thunder up 92-91. Paul George stepped up on the offensive end taking Bazley on an iso before sticking a 10-foot midrange to take the Clippers’ first lead since the first quarter. Darius Bazley looked for redemption on the other end, but ended up squandering the ball for a Reggie Jackson floater — it was good. With 36.7 seconds at Mark Daigneault’s disposal, Josh Giddey chucked a side-out pass to Mike Muscala, kicking the ball back-and-fro for a Muscala catch-and-shoot, no good. Los Angeles drained the clock with the three-point margin, forcing the Thunder’s hand with 12.5 seconds to go, and after two Luke Kennard free throws, the Thunder were barred off five. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander forked in an 11-foot stepback with just under five seconds to go, but the timer was not on their side, ultimately falling 99-94.

Oklahoma City splurged a 15-point advantage in the contest, handing the Clippers a 7-of-10 success rate in the final six minutes. The Thunder shot 35-of-90 as a collective (38.9%) while dipping below the thirties outside to the tune of an 11-of-37 (29.7%) recording. Turnovers plagued Oklahoma City yet again as they posted 16 turnovers to their 17 total assists in play.

Los Angeles grinded tooth-and-nail to steal this game away from Oklahoma City, and the catalyst of it all rests in Paul George. George exploded in the second half for a 27-point second half to place 32 points (11-of-24 FG), 9 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals in 40 minutes. The Clippers couldn’t buy a bucket for the majority of the night shooting 35-of-92 (38.0%) in all, redeeming themselves a bit from three going 15-of-42 (35.7%) at the perimeter. 

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander dominated the Clippers for the full length of his 40 minutes, logging 28 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists. Gilgeous-Alexander crushed Los Angeles from all ranges, shooting 11-of-23 while converting on 3-of-5 triples. SGA’s sidestep kept the opposition on a leash as the 23-year-old found touch at both the midrange and three-point arc whenever he took control in the halfcourt. SGA’s 19-point second half couldn’t stack up to George’s in the grand scheme of things, but his prestigious play was a minute-or-two away from snatching the victory.

Darius Bazley tied the Thunder’s second-largest output in points at 15, however, the 21-year-old had a bumpy 30 minutes of play. Baze played with a sense of urgency on the ball, taking his first jab at an open three or potential drive — and running with it. Bazley ended the night shooting 5-of-12 (3-of-8 3PT) from the floor while keeping to himself for a singular assist. Bazley’s biggest point of chatter centered around his handle as he coughed up 7 turnovers throughout the night, with almost all of them coming off of errant drives towards the cup. Baze took strides at guarding Paul George until the bitter end of the night, but as George gained confidence, he struggled to keep intact on both sides.

Josh Giddey fiddled with the Clippers’ frontcourt Monday, posting 15 points (6-of-15 FG), 5 rebounds, and 7 assists in 35 minutes. Giddey overpowered Los Angeles’ backcourt making use of his 6-foot-9 frame to turn the corner from the top, and reaping the rewards of 2-on-1 scenarios inside. Giddey’s calling card blossomed from his floater to the mid-range jumper as he took players up top for pullups from 10-to-15 feet out. As a distributor, Giddey continued to dabble in passing perfection leading the team in assists for the second-consecutive game while creating open drive-and-dish opportunities in the clutch. 

Aleksej Pokusevski terrorized the Clippers in the first half, banding together 9 points, however, Mark Daigneault cut the 19-year-old off from playtime — keeping the sophomore to 15 minutes. Pokusevski tapped into various parts of his arsenal scoring around the cup as a slasher and interior force while also working on the outside for a pair of jumpers. Poku’s role had largely been sliced in the name of Darius Bazley, though it should be noted, that the Serb has yet to play in clutch time this season. 

Mike Muscala and Theo Maledon placed a sour note on the bench shooting a feeble 2-of-12 and 3-of-10, respectively. Muscala wavered around the three as a pick-and-pop maestro, however, the plan backfired, shooting 1-of-7. As for Theo Maledon, the Frenchman shot a sparse 1-of-5 from distance.

The Oklahoma City Thunder (1-6) will take a two-day break before continuing their west coast venture against the Los Angeles Lakers (4-3) at the Staples Center.     

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