In its final game of the season, the Thunder shot out of the gates with strong energy that would endure through all four quarters. By the end of the night, three Thunder players finished with 20 or more points as the team ended its season on a high note with a win over the Clippers.
Sprinting through the finish line has been a mantra for the Thunder all season long. Whether its finishing a game strong or a practice with high energy, it all boils down to treasuring and valuing every moment you get on the floor. Heading into the last game of the season, sprinting through the finish line meant squeezing every opportunity out of the last 48 minutes of the season and leaving no stone unturned.
From the very outset, the Thunder maintained that energy. It translated on the offensive end as the squad burst out to a 10-point lead midway through the first frame.
The Thunder made eight of its first 12 shots as the Clippers shot just 3-of-13 in the first six minutes of action. Rookie Aleksej Pokuševski opened up with a perfect 3-for-3 shooting performance from the field to an early seven points while also balancing primary ball handling duties. By the end of the quarter, the Thunder held a 35-26 lead and Pokuševski remained perfect going 5-for-5 from the field, including 3-for-3 from the 3-point line on the way to 13 points.
“I was really impressed with his ability to get us organized for someone who doesn’t play the position,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “I thought he did a great job within the circumstances. The stuff that he didn’t do great is all stuff that he can improve on and that we’ve been trying to improve on all year and now he’s got to step into a really, really important summer for himself.”
Utilizing every last moment on the floor to continue to explore its roster and its players, two-way player Josh Hall started the game for the first time in his career. The rookie had only played in 20 games for the Thunder this season as he battled injury and also spent time down in the g-league bubble. Hall finished the game with a career-high 25 points making the most of all 42 minutes he had on the floor.
“It means a lot,” said Hall. “This organization has done a good job of keeping me in it. Countless hours of rehab, just keeping my spirits up and letting me know that better days are coming. This is definitely a good way to cap off the season.”
UPDATED Josh Hall to-do list
First career @NBA start
Career-high 25 points
— Bally Sports Oklahoma (@BallySportsOK) May 17, 2021
“I give Josh a lot of credit,” said Daigneault. “He’s had a tough year. It hasn’t been easy going through what he’s gone through and he came out tonight and played really well and gave himself a lot of confidence going into the summer.”
By the end of the night, Hall and Pokuševski would be two of the three Thunder players to finish with 20 or more points as Moses Brown also added a career-high 24 of his own. The Thunder’s steady stream of offense kept it in the game as the Clippers fought their way back to make it a one possession game and a battle that would go down to the final minute.
With just under a minute left in the game, the Thunder and the Clippers began exchanging buckets to either tie or take the lead. Patrick Patterson slammed home a dunk with 50 seconds left in the game to tie the score at 112 – it would be LA’s final bucket of the night. On the next possession, OKC’s leading scorer in Aleksej Pokuševski brought the ball across the timeline and received a ball screen from Moses Brown.
The 7-foot rookie had already knocked down five three pointers in the game and registered 26 points so when he saw his defender drop back to protect the paint, Poku stepped behind the line and sank his sixth 3-point attempt of the night to put the Thunder up by three with 45 seconds remaining. The Clippers missed their attempt on the next possession which left the Thunder in pole position for the rest of the game.
“Coach believes in me, my teammates believe in me,” Pokuševski said in his Bally Sports Oklahoma postgame interview. “So I took that shot and it went in and we won the game.”
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) May 17, 2021
Pokuševski may have knocked down the dagger 3-pointer, but it was Moses Brown who put the icing on the cake. In the Thunder’s last possession of the game, Pokuševski drove left and pulled up for a short bank shot, but this time the ball ricocheted off the rim.
Luckily, his fellow 7-footer in Brown– who had already grabbed seven offensive rebounds on the night– was ready and active under the rim to scoop up the loose change. Rather than lay the ball in off the glass, Brown timed his jump to snag the ball in midair and jam it home for the ultimate punctuation mark on the game and the season.
The Thunder capitalized on its size advantage in the paint with 7-footer Moses Brown anchoring the Thunder defense and Pokuševski operating as primary ball handler. By the end of the night, the Thunder racked up an OKC record 78 points in the paint compared to just 44 for the Clippers.
OKC’s defensive effort proved just as impressive as its offensive performance as the group swatted away a season-high 12 blocks. Brown led the way with seven blocks of his own marking a season high and the most by a Thunder player this season.
“That definitely was an emphasis,” said Brown. “Making ourselves a presence down low and being very physical. We have some big guys and we just wanted to make our presence known in the paint on offense and defense.”
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— Bally Sports Oklahoma (@BallySportsOK) May 17, 2021
“That what we talk about after every game. Running through the finish line is not just end of the season–it’s every day. End of a practice, end of a game, whatever it is. We did that today. We won the game, I’m happy about that and the guys played great.”
“Tonight was a good example of kind of the developmental trajectory of a lot of our players. These are things that guys probably weren’t going to be doing in the early parts of the season but you put one foot in front of the other throughout the year, you weather the ups and downs, stay consistent and you get better. I thought tonight was an example of evidence that our guys have gotten better.”
After 72 games in an extremely demanding NBA season, the Thunder now begins an offseason of player development. All of the experiences and lessons for each player now translate into a blueprint for growth and improvement to follow over the summer.
“I’m really optimistic going into the summer. I think a lot of our players have shown a ton of progress,” said Daigneault. “I think everybody on the team has gotten better and so it’ll be good to take a deep breath and reflect on the year, but then get back to work because when these guys walk back in in the fall, I think we’re going to be pretty excited about where they are after having had these experiences and then having a summer development.”