The Thunder return to Chesapeake Energy Arena for its final home game in February after a narrow crunch-time victory in Chicago on Tuesday. The Thunder edged out a close win on the road in a game that had as many highs as it did lows. OKC built up a lead of as many as 24 points in the first half behind incredible shooting from Danilo Gallinari, who sank five 3-pointers in the first quarter on the way to 19 points in the opening 12 minutes. However, the Bulls extinguished the streak of hot shooting for the Thunder in the third quarter when its 24-point deficit turned into a sudden lead.
As a result, the Thunder found itself in a dog fight of a fourth quarter that consisted of five ties and 13 lead changes. Ultimately, despite the timely shot making of Zach LaVine (41 points) and Coby White (35 points), the Thunder dug in its heels on defense, knocked down critical free throws and gutted out a victory.
“I give our guys credit, they fought and battled; it’s hard playing on the road,” Thunder head coach Billy Donovan said postgame on Tuesday. “It was great to see our guys weather it like they did and find a way to win coming down the stretch.”
For the first time this season, the Kings face the Thunder on OKC’s court in the third and final matchup of the season. The two teams have split the series so far this season with the Thunder taking the crown in the most recent matchup behind 23 points from rookie Two-Way guard, Luguentz Dort, and a critical discipled defensive effort. Sacramento, a team who shoots 3-pointers at a Top 10 clip, was forced to only 9 of 39 from deep.
The Kings are led offensively by the backcourt duo of Buddy Hield and lighting, quick point guard De’Aaron Fox. Hield, who leads the team in scoring also leads the team in 3-point shooting – an area where the Kings rack up over 35 percent of its points per game with the help of Nemanja Bjelica and Bogdan Bogdanovic.
With Sacramento’s leading scorer, Buddy Hield (who averages 20 points per game), coming off the bench and the Thunder’s sixth-man Dennis Schröder chipping in 19 points per game, be on the lookout for a high-scoring performance from both teams’ reserves. So far this season, the Thunder’s reserves have outscored opposing benches in 42 of the Thunder’s 58 games and is 28-15 when that happens.
Free Throws – During the Thunder’s series with the Kings, OKC has only allowed 21 total free-throw attempts and 13 makes from Sacramento. Over the course of the season, the Thunder allows the second-fewest free throw attempts per game. Disciplined, clean defense from OKC will play a key role in limiting easy points from the Kings’ offense.
On the other hand, the Thunder sits in the top five in the league in free throw attempts, makes and percentage. While holding teams to few attempts, the Thunder’s aggressive drives and touches in the paint allow them to generate easy points consistently from the charity stripe.
On Tuesday, the Thunder cashed in its 14th win this season after trailing in the fourth quarter which makes them the only team in the NBA with more than 10. A common thread among the games is the crunch time performances of Chris Paul who leads the league in clutch points with 133 so far this season while the next closest player has 109. On Tuesday, it was a floater from Paul and a perfect trip to the free-throw line that helped on the offensive end to seal the close win.
“It’s crazy because I think we played more close games than anybody throughout the season so it’s actually a good mentality to have,” Paul said postgame on Tuesday. “Some of the better teams that I’ve been on, you sort of have that mentality. You never want to be a team that tries to turn it on and turn it off. It may not be good, but we can sort of do that at times.”
Nice work fellas
Thunder at Bulls Gallery
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— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) February 26, 2020