The Thunder swept its three-game, East Coast road trip in dramatic fashion with a thrilling one-point win over Boston. Back-to-back possessions of elite defense in the final seconds sealed the fourth largest comeback for the Thunder this season after trailing by as many as 18 points.
After a first quarter that ended with the Thunder up three points, OKC found itself down 18 mid-way through the second quarter after a dramatic shift in momentum. Up to that point, neither team settled into a rhythm offensively and it wasn’t until the second quarter that a lead extended to double-digits. Boston rattled of five straight three pointers; Gordon Hayward dropped 10 points; and the Boston run extended to 19-4 to stretch the margin to 18.
By this point, the Thunder had plenty of reasons to lay down and let go of the rope. Down 18 on the road against a full-strength Boston team without its leading scorer in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for the first game this season.
But this is the Thunder – the same team who leads the league in clutch wins this season. The squad closed out the quarter on a 7-0 run punctuated by a Danilo Gallinari 3-pointer to bring the score to 52-63 tipping the scales enough to gain a slice of momentum going into the half.
“We just have a lot of fight, a lot of fight,” said Thunder guard Chris Paul. “It just started getting away from us in the second quarter. We ended the second quarter on a little run and all season long we’ve been winning these types of games…We just never give up.”
That fight continued into the second half. Chris Paul, the game-high leading scorer scored 14 of his 28 points in the third quarter. Taking advantage of Boston’s switches, Paul navigated through ball screens sinking jumper after jumper in the midrange.
Thunder comes out firing to close the gap. pic.twitter.com/oQz31nb7db
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 8, 2020
In addition to the offensive punch, the Thunder dug in its heels on defense. After allowing 10 3-pointers in the first half, Boston only sank three in the third quarter. Perimeter defenders pursued over ball screens making each shot as contested as possible and chasing them off the line. Rearview contests played a key role in this stat which is where Abdel Nader thrived on his way to a career-high four blocks.
“The ball was getting wherever it wanted to go and I thought we did a better job in the second half of handling the dribble at the point of attack,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan.
After what seemed to be a deflating series of events consisting of three missed free throws from Schröder and a missed break out layup from Nader, the Thunder rallied once again.
In the final play of the quarter it was Paul’s defense that forced a missed shot by Boston with eight seconds to go. Paul snatched the rebound and pitched it ahead to Schröder who was ahead of the pack and spotted up behind the 3-point line. Schröder lined up the shot and knocked it down at the buzzer to bring the Celtics’ lead down to one point and finally bring the game into control heading into the crunch time – a place that is common territory for the Thunder who leads the league in clutch scoring.
The fourth quarter went back and forth for the entire 12 minutes. Big play after big play for each team set the stage for an unforgettable final minute of play.
The Thunder trailed one point after a layup from Jayson Tatum with 40 seconds left in the game. On the other end, Steven Adams picked up a much-needed foul which sent him to the free throw line with 28 seconds to go. In the midst of a deafening Boston crowd, Adams missed both free throws, but Chris Paul swooped in and snagged the offensive rebound giving the Thunder a chance to take the lead. Paul put up a floater on the baseline that rattled off of the rim before the Thunder tipped it out of bounds in an attempt to grab the rebound.
Boston took the ball out on the sideline in the backcourt. Both Chris Paul and Dennis Schröder stood ready to attack whoever caught the ball. The ball went in to Kemba Walker and immediately, he was swarmed by the two Thunder point guards. Schröder tipped the ball free and ran it in for a layup to give the Thunder a lead with 8.5 seconds remaining.
“We wanted to get a trap before we fouled,” noted Paul. “So, I just tried to cut Kemba (Walker) off, but, the presence of mind Dennis, who I trust wholeheartedly, he knew, so when we sent Kemba, he was right there.”
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 9, 2020
After Schröder’s layup, Boston immediately called a timeout to advance the ball and draw up a play. Meanwhile in the Thunder’s huddle, Chris Paul was telling his coach that he wanted the matchup with Tatum.
“…I had a feeling they would go to him,” Paul said postgame.
Sure enough, the ball ended up in Tatum’s hands in the closing seconds. Paul was alone as Tatum tried to back him down to gain an advantage. The 13-year veteran didn’t give an inch. He remained chest to chest with Tatum and only allowed one option for a shot: a tough, contested 2-pointer that fell short off the front of the rim.
“He always does that,” said Schröder with a wide grin after the game. “The last possession, Chris always wants the best matchup…Don’t get it twisted, I do too but that’s credit to him, he got the stop there.”
A major key to the Thunder’s comeback came down to its performance in the third quarter. Boston rests as one of the best third quarter teams in the league with a +3.3 advantage in the third frame against its opponents. However, Paul’s 14 third quarter points coupled with nine from Schröder helped push the Thunder to a 10 point scoring differential in those crucial 12 minutes.
“It was a great team effort. Everybody stepped up, especially some guys that hadn’t played in a while. It was big for us.” –Abdel Nader
“You have to be willing to handle those kind of momentum swings, things not going your way, the difficulty and challenge and the adversity that goes on…I think it speaks to the guys’ character that they keep hanging in there and keep competing.” –Coach Donovan
— FOX Sports Oklahoma (@FOXSportsOK) March 9, 2020
After a three-game stretch on the road, the Thunder returns to Chesapeake Energy Arena for two matchups against Northwest Division foes. The Thunder will face Utah on Wednesday and Minnesota on Friday.