The Thunder were not in a good position going into the fourth quarter; Memphis were up by ten and it seemed like the Thunder’s lack of talent had caught up to them. Oklahoma City had made a strong push in the third but it was just not enough.
It would have been easy for the Thunder to throw in the towel and call it a night. This game was the third game in four nights and the Thunder were without four starters. On paper, this game was a schedule loss for OKC. But, the team led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander remained relentless and fought their way to a well-earned victory.
The Thunder started well in the first quarter and it was Poku’s scoring that drove the good start. Pokusevski played with a lot of confidence and that confidence fed into his play. He drained two jumpers effortlessly before hustling back down the floor to get a block. His strong first quarter set the tone for the rest of his evening.
Oklahoma City were adept at getting to the line in the first quarter; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in particular, used the line as a way of compensating for misses from the field. The efficiency at the stripe meant that Memphis were only up by three going into the second despite the Thunder making a ton of unforced errors.
The Thunder looked labored at times during the first quarter and the passing was not quite right. The players were generally making the right decisions but the accuracy was off. Memphis were ruthless in capitalising on these loose balls and this trend continued for the next three quarters. The Grizzlies racked up 35 points off turnovers.
Memphis started to find their way to the free throw line in the second quarter and the game started to slip away from the Thunder. Oklahoma City’s defence could not take away the floater from Tyus Jones or Ja Morant. The Grizzlies dispatched these looks time and time again as they punished the Thunder’s weak spot.
Shai being subbed out of the game at the end of the first meant that Kenrich Williams and Aleksej Pokusevski ended up running the point. Neither player has much experience leading the offense but they played surprisingly well. Williams was steady with the rock in his hands and consistently shuffled the ball to the open man.
The Thunder came close to taking the lead on a few occasions but Memphis’ hounding, haranguing defense kept the Grizzlies in the lead. The Thunder went into the break down by seven points.
During the first half of the game, neither team took many threes but the shot diet changed completely in the third quarter. The Thunder freely let the ball fly and the offense started to heat up. Oklahoma City score 35 points in the quarter but the team’s issues with turnovers reared their head again.
Memphis were able to score 38 points in the third quarter and they carried a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter. The Thunder lost control of the rope in the third quarter and the game became sloppy. The defense had not been good in the first half but the Thunder were pretty poor in the third quarter. The communication level dropped and Oklahoma City made some uncharacteristic mistakes.
The Thunder started the fourth quarter with a ragtag, injury-ravaged second unit. Aleksej Pokusevksi ran the point and he was flanked by Darius Miller, Kenrich Williams and Mike Muscala. This strange unit led the comeback.
A lot has been written about Pokusevski over the last three months and he has been frequently referred to as the ‘worst player in the league’. His play in the fourth quarter took a hammer to that title. Aleksej’s dribble penetrated the paint and drew defenders. Every single time the defense cranked up the pressure on him, he calmly kicked the ball out to an open shooter.
Kenrich Williams and Mike Muscala both drained wide open threes that stemmed from a Pokusevski drive. Oklahoma City had chopped down the deficit to just six points and then Kenny Hustle came to the party.
Williams has consistently outworked the other team all year long and it was no different in the fourth quarter. Williams was a blur of energy as he created deflections and grabbed loose boards. Kenrich’s value to the Thunder is clear, his versatility raises the floor of the bench unit and allows the Thunder to outperform their talent level.
The oft-used Darius Miller then made a big play. Miller drained a three while being fouled by the Grizzlies’ defense. Miller coolly walked to the line and knocked down a free throw to bring the Thunder within two.
The Grizzlies were reeling from the body blows that the Thunder had dealt but the bench unit had one more push left. As the game entered clutch time, Aleksej Pokusevski came to the fore and drained a three that put the Thunder into the lead for the first time since the first quarter. Darius Miller matched Pokusevski on the next possession. Two back-breaking threes put the Thunder up by four as the game wound down.
From that point onward, the game was Shai’s to control. Gilgeous-Alexander showed why he is better than the majority of his contemporaries late in the fourth quarter. SGA iced the Grizzlies with 10 points in the last five minutes. Shai just took over and the Grizzlies could do nothing to stop him.
The Thunder’s clutch play won a game that the Thunder had no business winning. Oklahoma City did not look to be at the races during the first three quarters but a strong fourth quarter carried the team over the line.