Thunder Wins in Manchester

THUNDER – 103

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS – 99

RECAP: MANCHESTER – A decisively Thunder-friendly crowd packed the Phones 4u Arena in Manchester, UK on Tuesday night and during the team’s second preseason game of the year, its supporters abroad got an excellent show. Led by the triumvirate of Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson, who combined for 68 points, 25 rebounds and 21 assists, the Thunder took the lead early in the third quarter and then held the Philadelphia 76ers at bay, winning 101-99. Nine different players scored four-or-more points for Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team, with 30 of the Thunder’s 40 made field goals coming off of an assist. Behind the tone Durant set with his 12 assists, the Thunder shared the ball throughout the night, spaced the floor and played unselfishly.

“We just moved the basketball and trusted in our offense and we were able to make some shots,” Durant said. “We just moved the basketball from side to side and I think if we do that, we can find good shots.”

Time and again the Thunder had open looks and even though shots didn’t drop like they might normally, players like Ibaka – who finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds – knocked down their opportunities when it counted. On the other end of the floor, Brooks’ squad was prideful in the way it defended. By holding Philadelphia to 41 percent shooting, the Thunder forced plenty of missed shots, but it also notched 11 blocks and 10 steals. Last season the team led the league in combined steals and blocks per game, and hopes to continue to create extra opportunities for itself by making those plays.

“That’s one of the biggest components for us,” Jackson said. “We want to get stops and we like to get out and run. In order to do so, we have to get some steals and some blocks.”

“Defense is our focus, that’s why we’re working all training camp,” Ibaka echoed. “We know we still have a lot of places to work on to get better, but we will get there. It is our second preseason game, and we’ll keep working.”

It’s still early in training camp, so while players like Perry Jones and Steven Adams showed flashes on Tuesday, there will be a continual development process for the entirety of the young group on the roster. Those players will go through the same ringer within the Thunder program that Durant and others have before them as the coaching staff takes a holistic approach to improvement. In fact, the 25-year-old Durant is still continuing to get better, as he showed by his 21-point, 12-assist, eight rebound evening through 33 minutes of action.

“He understands the game at a higher level each season because he puts a lot of time into it,” Brooks said of Durant. “He’s as coachable as I’ve been around out of any player I’ve been around in this league as a player and as a coach. He’s going to continue to get better. He has the talent, the skill, the body, the touch and gifted game, but he also has an unmatched work ethic.”

While Durant set the table with 14 points in the third quarter and by giving his teammates opportunities by sharing the ball, it was up to Ibaka and Jackson to bring this one home down the stretch. Jackson scored 20 of his game-high 29 points in the second half. The third year point guard also tallied eight assists and six rebounds, while committing only one turnover. By continually pushing the tempo, attacking the rim and putting others in positions to score, Jackson took over not only the playmaking to secure victory, but he and Ibaka were also responsible in a leadership capacity for the young group of five that was on the floor. As the season progresses, Jackson will be called upon to be an important part of this year’s group, so opportunities like tonight’s are a great way for him to keep developing all sorts of skills.

“He has a lot of growth and he’s going to continue to improve,” Brooks said about Jackson. “He’s a gym rat. He loves the game. He’s always in the gym. He’s always asking questions. He’s always putting a lot of time into it. He had a terrific game tonight. It’s going to give him confidence and give the team confidence moving forward.”

TURNING POINT:

It was a fairly even contest throughout, but two strong stretches by the Thunder on offense and defense kept the 76ers at bay and propelled the team to victory. In the third quarter, with the game tied at 63 with 6:33 remaining, the Thunder rattled off a 13-2 run to break things open. Reggie Jackson started the spurt by scoring six straight points off of two jumpers and a finger roll, then Kevin Durant hit a jumper, Jeremy Lamb knocked down a free throw, Serge Ibaka hit a jumper and then Lamb made a steal and slammed it home. Within three minutes, the Thunder’s lead had jumped to 76-65.

In the fourth quarter the game again was tied, this time at 85-85 with 8:07 remaining, but a defensive effort that forced three straight turnovers sparked an 8-0 run. Coming out of a timeout, Lamb hit two free throws, then Jackson made two straight layups before Ibaka drained a jump shot to make it 93-85 with 6:35 to go. The Sixers made it close late, but those two bursts helped the Thunder make a comeback much more challenging.

“That third quarter, we set the tone,” Brooks explained. “I thought Serge and Reggie did a good job of closing out the game. Those are positions they haven’t been in a lot with KD and Russell when he’s back. It was a great opportunity for them to just finish strong at the end. They both made some big plays for us.”

PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN’T SHOW, FIRST HALF: Nice, quick ball fake by Serge Ibaka to move the defense to free himself for an elbow jumper. Beautiful pocket bounce pass from Kevin Durant to Steven Adams for a slashing dunk. Great extra effort on the offensive boards by Nick Collison to create another possession for the Thunder. Good hustle by Perry Jones to get in position for an offensive rebound off a missed free throw, and to then draw a foul. Ibaka fights on the offensive boards to draw a foul and regain possession for the Thunder.

PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN’T SHOW, SECOND HALF:

Nice work by Durant to fight over a screen and chase his man to prevent a pass. Great positioning and hustle on the backside by Jeremy Lamb to make a help-side block in transition defense. Lamb then anticipates a swing pass perfectly and uses his length to pick it off and get out. Excellent extra effort in post defense by Orton to make a steal. Excellent concentration by Ibaka to tip a defensive board to himself, then Perry Jones snags an offensive board to regain a crucial possession.

FINAL WORD:

“We were fortunate to come out with the win today. We just kept trying to battle and trust that all five guys were going to get it done tonight.” – Point guard Reggie Jackson