The Thunder defense forced 20 Cleveland turnovers and yet found itself in another late-game battle. It came down to grit on the defensive end in the final minutes and a few vital plays from Dennis Schröder to keep the Thunder afloat against the Cavs.
After a hard-fought first quarter in which the Thunder barely scraped out a lead 29-28, the Thunder picked up the defensive intensity. After forcing only three Cleveland turnovers in the first frame, the Thunder forced nine in the second resulting in 12 points on the other end. Five of those nine turnovers came at the hands of Thunder lightning quick defenders. Quick hands, smart help and deflections turned into steals for the Thunder.
“In the first half, I thought we played a pretty good game on both ends,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan. “We gave up a few too many threes, but outside of that I thought we played really well in the first half.”
Offensively, four Thunder players went into the halftime break with double figures including Dennis Schröder who racked up 13 of his 15 points in the second quarter alone. By the half, the Thunder held a 61-53 edge.
Coming out of the half, the Cavs flexed its 3-point shooting muscle continuing to shoot 57 percent from the 3-point line well into the midpoint of the third frame. Consequently, the Cavs began the second half on an 8-0 run behind a flurry of buckets from downtown. Before long, Cleveland regained its lead as the Thunder struggled to answer on the other side of the floor. Missed shots for the Thunder turned into wide-open transition opportunities for the Cavs on the other end. The Cavs outscored the Thunder 28-23 to wrangle OKC’s lead to three going into the final stanza.
The Thunder’s lead fluctuated throughout the entire fourth quarter until Kevin Love sank a technical free throw to tie the game at 95 with just under four minutes left to play. From that point, the Thunder found itself in yet another clutch time battle to pull out a win. Thunder sixth-man Dennis Schröder kicked into high gear. After already notching 32 minutes on the evening, the Thunder point guard continued to pick up the ball full court on the defensive end and attack the basket on the offense.
After Schröder knocked down a pair of free throws, the Thunder held a slight 3-point advantage with one minute left in the game. Cleveland lost the ball out of bounds on the following possession which gave the Thunder the opportunity to stretch the lead to two possessions. The ball moved around the floor until it ended up in Gilgeous-Alexander’s hands who attacked the middle of the paint and kicked it out to Schröder for a wide open three in front of an already standing Thunder bench to stretch the lead to six points with 27 seconds remaining.
“It felt good,” Schröder admitted. “Everybody was standing up already, so I had to make it. It’s a lot of pressure, but it felt great.”
With that basket, Schröder tallied 30 points which marked his eight-straight game of 20 or more points. Seven of those performances came as a reserve which set a new OKC record.
“I just try to be aggressive, and I worked really hard last summer on my shots [and] threes. Even during the season, I just try to keep getting better,” said Schröder. “Mid-range, threes, layups, and right now it’s working well and just trying to keep staying aggressive for my teammates. They need that.”
The decisive moment, however, came after Love knocked down a triple with 23 seconds left to bring the game to 106-103. The Cavs were forced to foul which sent the German point guard to the free throw line where he made one of two. With only a four-point lead and 20 seconds left on the clock, Schröder locked onto Collin Sexton defensively as he tried to advance the ball up the floor. Schröder picked up Sexton 94 feet forcing him to change directions multiple times before crossing the half court line. With dizzyingly active hands and swift footwork without fouling, Schröder got a piece of the ball. Gilgeous-Alexander swooped up the loose change and immediately drew a foul to seal the deal at the free throw line.
“I saw we had a foul to give, so I was trying to be as aggressive as possible going for a steal and it worked,” said Schröder. “Just putting pressure on him so he didn’t feel comfortable and he lost the ball.”
“I think people will look at the offensive play that he made, the threes and all that but that steal he had on Collin [Sexton] was the play of the game and Dennis [Schröder] does that every single night,” said Paul.
In the first quarter, Kevin Love missed a three at the top of the key resulting in a long rebound that ventured into the hands of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He immediately looked up the floor to see Danilo Gallinari ahead of the pack and slings the ball full court. Gallinari caught the ball and saw out of the corner of his eye, Luguentz Dort trailing full speed unaccompanied behind him. Gallinari turns and shovels a small pass to Dort who caught the ball and elevated for a monstrous one-handed jam.
“I was trying to run to the post because I knew I had a small guy and then while the ball was in the air, I saw Lu cutting so it was an easy play to read,” said Gallinari.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) February 6, 2020
Wednesday’s game marked the 1,000th career game for Thunder point guard Chris Paul. He finished with 12 points, seven assists and topped it off with a steal. Dating back to his very first game of his career in Oklahoma City in 2007, the veteran also started in each of the 1,000 games he’s played.
“It’s a blessing obviously to be able to compete and play in 1,000 games, but just gotta keep it going,” said Paul postgame.
— FOX Sports Oklahoma (@FOXSportsOK) February 6, 2020
“We were playing very good defense, aggressive and with the right intensity. We played very good one-on-one defense, especially Dennis was amazing. That’s the defense we know we can bring every game. Especially in the fourth quarter.” -Danilo Gallinari
“We were competing, playing together having fun out there and getting fast break points. Defense started that, and we got the win so it’s amazing.” –Terrance Ferguson
The Thunder will have one day of practice before returning to action on Friday for its second game in its four-game homestand with a matchup against the Pistons. This will be the first time the Thunder face the Pistons this season with OKC holding the 16-5 all-time advantage in the Thunder era and a 9-2 series lead when playing at home.