Thunder Beats Fenerbahce in Istanbul

THUNDER – 95

FENERBAHCE ULKER – 82

GAME RECAP:

ISTANBUL -- As the crowd filtered into Ulker Sports Arena, there was a wonderful mixture of Turkish basketball fans – some supporting the home team and others donning Oklahoma City Thunder gear.

On Saturday, the Thunder kick-started its pre-season schedule with its first game of the year, against Fenerbahce Ulker, one of the perennial contenders in the Turkish basketball league. With a 95-82 victory, the Thunder was able to take care of a few different goals that it had coming into its two-and-a-half day stint in Istanbul. It was a good learning experience for this young but experienced Thunder squad helmed by Head Coach Scott Brooks, and it was a step in the right direction in terms of the team-building process as the regular season approaches.

“We wanted to establish a few things on how we play,” Brooks explained. “We knew it was going to be a big test for us. We wanted to come in here and play good basketball and we did that. We also had a good time to get together and bond, so we accomplished a couple of important things on this trip.”

In their home arena, Fenerbahce jumped out to a quick start, knocking down their first four three-pointers en route to a 28-20 first quarter lead. From there, the Thunder buckled down on the defensive end by rotating out to shooters, helping one another on the back-side and boxing out strongly. In fact, the Brooks’ club held Fenerbahce to under 34 percent shooting in each of the final three quarters while also out-rebounding its Turkish opponents 52-27 for the entire game.

“We did a much better job in the last three quarters defensively,” Brooks said. “It starts with that, and we ended up rebounding the ball much better. It’s simple, fundamental basketball. Put a body on a player and rebound the ball. I thought we did well.”

As the Thunder continues its path towards collective improvement in the preseason, it takes every minute on the floor as an opportunity to grow. For players young and old, from a veteran like Nick Collison to second-year man Jeremy Lamb, training camp practices and preseason games like tonight’s provide a chance for the whole unit to work together on both ends of the floor. Tonight, the teaching point was communication, as a developing and improving defender like Lamb was aided by Collison and Derek Fisher on the court.

“A lot of people have my back on defense,” Lamb said. “We all talk. Fisher was talking to me the whole time. Nick was talking to me, so I think it was a team effort. Everybody was talking on defense which made it a good game defensively as a team.”

Lamb is one of the many young Thunder players who made an impact on both ends, pairing his two steals and two blocks with nine points, five rebounds and four assists. Rookies Steven Adams and Andre Roberson combined for 11 points and six rebounds, and every player got into the scoring column. On offense the team was led by Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, who tallied 24 and 15 points respectively. For the night, the Thunder had 22 assists but hope to share the ball even better moving forward.

Drawing any conclusions from a preseason game like this one would be hasty, but regardless of the specifics in terms of outcome and statistics, tonight’s game was a success for the Thunder. After a week of practice, the team finally got the opportunity to go against an external opponent, and relished the chance to battle a squad besides their own teammates. As the Thunder hops on a flight to Manchester, UK for its second stop of its European trip, the coaching staff and entire team has a baseline reading of where it stands currently and what it hopes to improve upon in the coming days and weeks.

“You can evaluate yourselves a little bit after playing someone new,” Collison said. “Having to play a whole game as opposed to stopping and teaching every play, it’ll be a good starting point for us at least to evaluate our team and work on things we need to do to get better.”

“It’s just the first game of preseason and the start of a long season,” Durant said. “It felt good to play somebody else. We’re just trying to get better every time we touch that court… We can be a lot better and that’s the best part about it. We have to build on it and try to get better the next day.”

TURNING POINT:

Trailing 37-28 with 7:19 remaining in the first quarter, the Thunder knew it needed to clamp down on the defensive end. Over the final seven-plus minutes of the quarter, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club held Fenerbahce to just two made field goals, while making eight buckets themselves. It started with a bank shot in the lane from Kevin Durant An and-one play from Hasheem Thabeet and a Durant dunk sparked the Thunder as it quickly pulled within 37-35. After two Derek Fisher free throws, Durant made a driving layup that gave the Thunder its first lead since the opening minute.

Fenerbahce tied the game after Reggie Jackson made a layup and Durant hit a free throw, but the Thunder scored the final six points of the first half over a 1:16 time span. Durant slammed home an alley-oop from Jackson, Serge Ibaka caught a pass from Jeremy Lamb for a dunk and then Durant hit a buzzer-beating jumper to complete what was a 20-5 run to close the first half for the Thunder, leading 48-42 at the break. For the quarter, the Thunder shot 10-for-18 while holding its opponents to just 6-for-20 shooting.

“We did a good job of responding after the first quarter,” Durant said. “We did a great job the last three quarters on defense. That’s really what we tried to preach – making sure our defense is locked in every possession and guys off the bench did a really, really good job of setting the tone and we followed their lead from there.”

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

Kendrick Perkins makes a strong box out to keep his man away from the rim and free up Reggie Jackson to snag a defensive board… Thunder defense holds firm for a full 24 seconds to force a shot clock violation… Excellent vision from Nick Collison to find a cutting Thabo Sefolosha under the basket to draw a foul… Derek Fisher hustles to stick with the play and grab two loose balls, then draw a shooting foul… Hasheem Thabeet boxes out and tips a loose rebound to Kevin Durant… Scrambling defense by the Thunder defense forces another shot clock violation. Beautiful slipped screen by Collison who received a pinpoint pass from Fisher for a dunk.

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

Excellent team defense to scramble and pick up shooters on closeouts by the Thunder… Steven Adams and Perry Jones both dive on the floor to hustle for a loose ball… Quick hands by Durant to slap the ball away from a driving opponent. Great fight on the offensive boards by Adams to tip one to himself and save it in bounds… Unselfish extra pass from Perry Jones to Jeremy Lamb for a three-pointer… Adams sets a well-timed screen at the top of the key to free up Durant for a monster dunk. Good awareness by Jeremy Lamb to hustle back in transition to make a steal.