With the clock ticking down Tuesday and a 24-point lead lost, the Oklahoma City Thunder had one task: stop Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine.
LaVine, who ended up finishing the game with 41 points, was trying to drive down the court and steal a win from the surging Thunder, but a relentless force got in his way. Enter Thunder guard Dennis Schröder.
Schröder met LaVine at the Bulls logo and started face guarding him for the duration of the Bulls possession. Schröder used a combination of poise, quick feet and athleticism to pressure LaVine the entire drive and eventually draw a charge on him to swing momentum back to Oklahoma City. Schröder said this defensive effort on LaVine was a personal challenge to him as the Bulls star had scored on him a few times Tuesday night.
“I mean, [LaVine’] a monster, you know, he’s playing great this season,” Schröder said in a postgame interview. “I decided to take the challenge. He scored a couple of buckets against me so I took it [as an] individual. I really wanted to guard this guy and got that offensive foul, so I’m glad we got that call.”
Immediately following this play, Chris Paul knifed through Chicago’s post defense and scored on a tricky layup. These two plays would eventually set the Thunder up for another clutch win on the season–a category they lead the NBA in.
The Thunder’s ability to get these clutch wins comes down to their style of play, adaptability and perseverance. Thunder coach Billy Donovan said perseverance played a huge role in Tuesday’s win.
“I gave our guys a lot of credit,” Donovan said. “We didn’t fold. Obviously we took a lot of punches and we just kept playing and we kept having a fight to us and, you know, we found a way to win the game coming down the stretch.”
In addition to getting clutch wins, the Thunder have also thrived in winning on the road. Even in a hostile Chicago environment, the Thunder were able to obtain a franchise record by winning their ninth straight away game.
Donovan credited this road success to perseverance.
“I think the group understand that when you’re on the road there’s hard places to play and there’s gonna be a lot of ebbs and flows,” Donovan said. “We keep our composure. The guys stay together. They try to weather storms together. I think they understand that it’s just not gonna be smooth sailing on the road, there’s gonna be challenges. And I think that when it gets hard, our guys really kind of pull together. It’s been great to watch them collectively try to do it.”