In Part 1 of the Thunder 2019-2020 Clutch Time Season Recap, it was made abundantly clear OKC was not a team to be taken lightly in any game. Through hard-fought battles with the likes of the NBA’s elites, the Thunder showed the league (as well as the fanbase) they were capable of more than just tanking.
Fourteen games into their league-high 42 clutch games, Oklahoma City’s record in those games sat at 6-8. Ultimately, when the COVID-19 pandemic put the season on hold, OKC was at 29-13 in the clutch. With only five losses remaining in their collective 28 games left in the clutch, the Thunder, having already established their identity when games got close, had a lot of clutch winning to do.
Again — Clutch Time, as defined by the NBA, is the statistical category given to “the last five minutes of a game in which the point differential is 5 or less points.”
Here Come the Wins
Over the 14 games Part 2 covers, the Thunder went an astonishing 11-3. Fueled by the closing lineup of Paul, Schroder, Gilgeous-Alexander, Gallinari, and Adams, Oklahoma City slammed the door shut on teams in the clutch.
With three overtime victories and numerous comebacks — this is the stretch where Thunder games became must-see TV.
Dec 1 @ Pelicans | Win 107 – 104
With 5:15 remaining in the Thunder’s December 1 match up with the Pelicans, Lonzo Ball hit his fourth 3-pointer to give New Orleans a 5-point lead, their largest of the night. The made basket and the stare-down that followed ignited Chris Paul, OKC’s captain of the clutch. The following play Chris dropped in a smooth 16-footer to bring the game to within one possession. Next, Paul assisted Gallinari on a 3-point connection tying the game. Following a Thunder stop, CP3 chased down a rebound and got right back to his spot for another 16-footer, and the lead.
With 2:12 remaining in regulation Paul hit a fade-away 25-foot 3-point shot to take all the wind out of the Pelicans sails and put a punctuation mark on a 12-0 run by the Thunder, who took a 101-94 lead on the make. Ultimately Steven Adams would make an impressive 5-6 from the free-throw line down the stretch to ice the game and give the Thunder their second road-win on the season.
Dec 4 Vs. Pacers | Loss 100 – 107
On December 4, known Thunder-killer T.J. Warren helped the Pacers defeat OKC by pouring in 24 points on 15 shots. The loss to the Pacers marked the Thunder’s 8th loss to an opponent by 7 points or fewer. This is a staggering stat for a young season, where the team had only played a collective 20 games total to that point.
With 17 seconds remaining in the game, Terrance Ferguson missed an open 3-pointer for the tie, a potential moment to look back on as a breaking point for his already wavering self-confidence on the season. Following the miss, Warren made two free-throws to put the game out of reach. A bright spot for the Thunder was Steven Adams’ stand-out performance of 20 points on 8-8 from the field. His points were also accompanied by 9 rebounds and 3 assists.
Dec 6 Vs. Timberwolves | Win 139 – 127
Affectionately deemed “Untuck-Gate”, OKC’s home match-up against the Minnesota Timberwolves was easily one the most exciting games of the entire season. With 1.1 remaining on the clock I turned to my wife and flatly stated, “this game is over.” Minnesota had a commanding 121-119 lead as Karl-Anthony Towns stepped to the free-throw line for 2 shots, I could not have possibly been more wrong.
What happened next was like the ending of a Disney Channel Original. Towns missed the first free-throw, to add insult to injury the Timberwolves were then issued a technical foul for Jordan Bell’s untucked jersey that CP3 was more than happy to point out. The penalty of a free-throw was delivered due to the fact it was the Wolves’ second delay of game penalty. Gallinari stepped up and sank the technical free-throw bringing the scored to 121-120.
With no timeouts left, the Thunder would have taken the loss if Towns simply missed his second free-throw, however to he and the Wolves demise he sank the freebie and gave the Thunder a chance to inbound the ball with the clock stopped. The following play you have to see to believe.
Following the hysterical events which led to the game being forced into overtime (and me screaming in excitement/waking up my 2-year-old son), the extra period was completely dominated by the Thunder. OKC outscored Minnesota 17-5 in the 5-minute extra period, 11 of those 17 came from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Thunder history was also made in this game — for the first time since the team became the Thunder, five players scored at least 20 points on the same night.
Dec 8 @ Blazers | Win 108 – 96
Technically speaking, the Thunder’s matchup with Portland on December 8th was a finish in the clutch. However, the reality is, the moment the 5-minute mark was eclipsed in the fourth quarter, the Thunder once again flipped the clutch switch. Having seen a lead that swelled all the way up to 18 dwindle to just 4, OKC buckled down when it mattered most. The Thunder scored 18 points in the final 5 minutes of the game and defeated the Blazer by 12.
On a lighter note, the NBA officials “got me back”, as Paul put it in a post-game media scrum, referring to the delay of game penalties he received.
Dec 11 @ Kings | Loss 94 – 93
The script was flipped on Oklahoma City in the fourth quarter of their December 11 loss in Sacramento. It was the Kings of Clutch succumbing to the Kings in the clutch, getting outscored 15-7 in the finalfive minutes of the game.
With 6:54 remaining in regulation the Thunder sat atop an 11-point lead, Buddy Hield (the former sooner stand-out) and company then came to life. The Kings went on a 14-0 run, fueled in part by two timely Hield 3’s, to capture a 3-point lead. Abdel Nader ended the run with a 3-pointer of his own with 2:37 on the clock that left the score even at 89 apiece.
The two teams traded punches down the stretch with OKC taking the lead at the 31.6 mark on two made free-throws by SGA, but the 2-point lead was short-lived. With 13.4 seconds left in the game, Bogdan Bogdanovic sank a triple to give his team the lead again. In the closing seconds, Paul missed a potential game-winning mid-range jumper and the Thunder lost the game.
Dec 16 Vs. Bulls | Win 109 – 106
Gallinari scored on the first possession of OKC’s game against the Bulls on December 16th, his layup gave the Thunder a 2-0 lead. The Thunder would go on to trail for the remainder of the game, up until the final 5 minutes of the fourth quarter. The Thunder once again showed what they are made of by overcoming as much as a 26-point deficit in a game that looked over by the second quarter.
The Oklahoma City comeback was led by none other than CP3. Shooting 5-for-5 from 3 in the quarter, on his way to recording 19 of his team-high 30 points — Paul was on another level. On top of his 30 points, Chris neared triple-double territory with 8 assists and 10 rebounds, reminding the league once again he’s still got it.
Dec 18 Vs. Grizzlies | Win 126 – 122
On December 18 Oklahoma City once again struggled early against a young team who pushed the pace on them every time an opportunity presented itself. This time the opponent was Memphis instead of Chicago, and this time the Thunder only had a deficit of 24-points to come back from, as opposed to 26 like they did in their previous game.
Veteran leadership and experience prevailed in the end, as the Thunder chipped away at the Memphis lead, and ultimately gained advantage on the high-side of the score in the final minute. With 57 seconds left on the game clock, Paul surveyed the floor from the top of the key, the scored tied at 120. As the shot-clock closed in on 14 seconds, OKC set up a familiar play, a high on-ball double-screen for Paul going to his right. Ja Morant had no chance as he ran directly into, first the Gallinari screen, followed directly by an infamous Adams brick wall. By the time CP3 got to his spot in the midrange, Morant was a solid 8 feet behind him, Paul buried the shot (as if he needed the space anyway). After the shot was made the scoreboard read 122-120 Thunder, with 53 seconds remaining of game time. OKC would hold the lead for the rest of the game.
Dec 22 Vs. Clippers | Win 118 – 112
Gilgeous-Alexander shined December 22, matching his career-high (32) as Paul George (the man he was traded for) made his first return to Oklahoma City. The OKC faithful cheered for George during his introduction, but as soon as the game ball was tipped, they immediately turned their focus from the past to the present.
Shai was electric as he scoop-shot and finger-rolled past all other scorers on the night. Going 2-of-3 from beyond the arc and 6-of-6 from the free-throw line, Shai’s shot was falling. However, he preferred to shoot most of his shots in the paint, where he was seemingly scoring at will.
Coincidentally, this match-up between the Clippers and Thunder mirrored the two teams’ previous game on November 18. However, this time the roles were inverted, as it was a call reversal in favor of the Thunder that helped, instead of hurt, the team down the stretch. Near the 5-minute mark of the fourth quarter Nerlens Noel was whistled for a blocking foul as Montrez Harrell came barreling down the lane on a made lay-up. From the looks of it, the Clippers were going up 100-94 with a free-throw coming. Billy Donovan challenged the call, and the ruling was overturned to a charging call — no basket.
The call reversal was a spark-plug igniting the Clutch Thunder into action. The final 5 minutes of the game were an SGA and Dennis Schroder highlight reel. The two combined for 20 points, SGA with 6 and Schroder with the remaining 14. Oklahoma City took the lead with just under 2:00 left in the game on a timely Schroder 3-pointer. The team held onto the lead for the rest of the game hitting all six of their free-throws down the stretch.
Dec 27 @ Hornets | Win 104 – 102 OT
Free-throws — so much of the Thunder-Hornets overtime showdown in late December was predicated on unguarded 15-foot set-shots. The Thunder shot a disgusting 19-31 (61.1%) from the line. Their only saving grace was the Hornets shot an abysmal 11-18 (61.3%) from the line in response.
With the game hanging in the balance, Schroder stepped to the free-throw line for two shots. His team held to a mere 1-point lead, and the game clock read 8.9 seconds remaining. Everyone knew the obvious — if he just makes both shots the opposing team will need to sink a 3-pointer just to tie and force overtime. Schroder took a deep breath, bent his knees, lifted the shot, and clank – missed. Following the miss he made the second, making it a 2-point game.
As to be expected, Devonte’ Graham of the Hornets made a two-point shot in the final seconds, and an extra period would be needed to decide the winner.
During overtime the Hornets suffered a similar fate. P.J. Washington stepped to the line with 1.9 left on the clock, his team was trailing 104-102. Two made free-throws would give Charlotte a realistic chance at sending the game to double-overtime. Washington however, missed the crucial first free-throw, and subsequently missed on purpose on the second in hopes of a chance to score on an offensive rebound. The game ended with a score of 104 – 102 Thunder.
Dec 29 @ Raptors | Win 98 – 97
Gilgeous-Alexander was the star of night in his return to his hometown of Toronto on December 29. It was a known fact that the “home game” for the Canadian was one that he had circled on his calendar. The second year combo-guard did not disappoint as he once again matched his career high of 32 points. This game marked the third time in five games Shai met the scoring mark.
On top of His continuation of impressive scoring production, Gilgeous-Alexander also led the Thunder clutch efforts down the stretch of a nail-biter that consisted of nine lead changes and 10 ties. With 36 seconds remaining in the game SGA made a two-point shot in the paint that gave the Thunder a one-point lead at 98-97. The shot proved to be the final score of the game — making it a game-winner. Equally clutch to the shot was the 50-50 rebound Shai skied to secured after a Fred VanVleet missed 3-pointer.
At this point in the season it was safe to say the Thunder’s young star was rapidly ascending, putting the entire league on notice.
Dec 31 Vs. Mavericks | Win 106 – 101
CP3 came off a ball-screen at the top of the key and dibbled hard to his right. The young stud Luka Doncic was right with him step for step. Paul then gave the 20-year-old an inside-out dribble move some call “the shamgod”, Luka bit hard on the fake, and all his momentum was leaning to his left. Paul then crossed-over hard behind his back and gave a millisecond of a hesitation move, as he navigated to the middle of the lane. Doncic was now officially a step behind Paul as he swung his body around to try to recover. Height was on his side, but CP3 was playing chess. The Point-Gawd double-clutched on his layup and sank the shot. The score was now 101-100 as the Dallas lead was cut down to one with only 1:14 left in the game on the last night of 2019.
Chris Paul gave OKC the lead on a 17-foot pull-up jumper on the next possession, pushing his point total to 13 in the fourth quarter alone. On defense, Gallinari put Oklahoma City in the driver’s seat to get the victory when he picked Doncic’s pocket clean, which led to free-throws at the other end of the court. The Thunder went 7-of-8 from the charity stripe down the stretch of the game and secured the win.
Jan 2 @ Spurs | Win 109 – 103
Oklahoma City got a regular season win in San Antonio for the first time in five years on January 2nd. In that span of time the Thunder played 17 regular season games against the Spurs, owning a record of 7 wins and 10 losses. In the same 5-year gap the Thunder were also 0-9 in San Antonio in the regular season (they beat them twice in S.A. when it mattered most, the 2016 2nd round playoff series).
Oklahoma city played from behind for a majority of the game, down by as many as 14 at one point in the first half. OKC did not lay down, and was able to chip their way back into the fight. At the start of the fourth quarter the Thunder trailed the Spurs by only two points, 74-76. The Thunder then went on a run — outscoring San Antonio 20-11 as the game clock read 5:24, and the scoreboard read 94-87.
Solid defense and clutch shooting down the stretch from the OKC 3-guard lineup helped the Thunder secure the win. The win pushed Oklahoma City to four games over .500, the team’s highest win percentage on the season.
Jan 6 @ 76ers | Loss 113 – 120
Oklahoma City saw a 5-game win-streak snapped in their loss to a Philadelphia team playing in desperation-mode after losing 4-straight. A familiar face reared its head as OKC missed 10 of their 31 free-throws, shooting just 67.7% from the line.
Adams was a major bright spot for the Thunder as he dominated the paint for 24 points and 15 rebounds, 9 of which were offensive. Adams took advantage of an injury Joel Embiid suffered in the first quarter, dislocating a finger. Embiid played through the injury, but was not his usual self, getting bullied on the boards by Big Kiwi.
With 3:14 remaining in the game a Dennis Schroder jumper brought the Sixer lead down to two points, and it looked as though the Thunder were going to achieve the comeback victory. Three consecutive 76er buckets later and the lead was swollen to 9 with less than a minute left on the clock. The Thunder didn’t quite have enough and suffered their first loss in the clutch in 8 games — a magnificent run.
Jan 7 @ Nets | Win 111 – 103 OT
The final game covered in Part 2 was an absolute thriller against the Brooklyn Nets on January. On the second night of a back-to-back, it took overtime for the Thunder to secure the win, but once again, when things got close the team buckled down and did what they had to do.
With 3:30 left in the fourth quarter OKC trailed by 7 points. Paul completely took over, scoring 10 points on 4-of-4 from the free-throw line and 3-of-4 from the field from that point forward. The point guard was nearly perfect, except for one mistake — a miss-dribble out of bounds. The turnover gave Brooklyn possession of the ball with 11 seconds remaining on the clock. To make things worse, Schroder fouled prior to the ball being inbounded, leading to a free-throw and the ball back for the Nets.
It looked like the game was over (Thunder nation has seen this story before). Spencer Dinwiddie stepped to the free-throw line with the game tied at 101. Dinwiddie missed the free one, as well as the floater he shot at the buzzer sending the game into overtime.
The extra period began with both team trading buckets, bringing the score to 103-103. The Nets would not score again for the rest of the game, and the Thunder would go on to outscore them 10-2 in the extra period. A perfect example of how the Thunder found ways to win when games go close all throughout their last 14 games in the clutch.
If you like winning, stay tuned for Part 3. (There’s a lot more winning.)