Preseason Recap: Thunder vs. Bulls
THUNDER – 95
CHICAGO BULLS – 104
WICHITA – Facing one of the toughest teams in the NBA, the Thunder’s young up-and-comers stood up to the challenge. In a 104-95 loss to the Chicago Bulls in the team’s final preseason game of the year, the Thunder battled all night and gave itself an opportunity to win, all while continuing to develop young talent. In a home contest for the Thunder in Wichita, KS, second-year men like Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones and rookies like Steven Adams and Andre Roberson hung tough to push the veteran Bulls to the brink. Ultimately, three contested Derrick Rose three-pointers in the final three minutes created the separation the Bulls needed, but Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks was proud of his team’s effort. “We don’t like to waste minutes,” Brooks said. “Whoever we have on the floor, we expect them all to play at a level of high intensity and togetherness for the team. We did that tonight. No matter who we put on the floor we expect to do those things.” Team leader Kevin Durant was the co-leader in points for the Thunder, scoring 22 to go with five assists, four rebounds and two steals in 32 minutes of action, but Brooks turned to his young players in crunch time to give them that necessary and valuable game experience. On the night, Jackson scored 14 points and added six assists and Adams racked up 11 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. The man who stood out, however, was Lamb, who took charge in the fourth quarter and finished with 22 points on 9-for-16 shooting. “They all had some good points in the game,” Brooks said. “Jeremy came back with some good offensive energy, really coming off on screens and setting his man up. Those are the little things that we talk about we want to see improvement out of him as training camp has gone by, and I see that.” Lamb got going with six points in each of the first two quarters, starting with three transition buckets off of the Thunder’s eight first-quarter steals. Next, Lamb worked his way into the lane, hitting a floater and a step back jumper. With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, Lamb made sure to manufacture points even when his shot didn’t fall. By getting to the free throw line after attacking the paint, opportunities along the perimeter arose to allow the rangy wingman to knock down outside jumpers. All night long Lamb worked off the ball with the help of Thunder bigs like Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins, who set him up with screens. That’s why after the game, Lamb could only discuss how the support of his team allowed for him to have a successful night. “I felt pretty good, but I have to credit my teammates,” Lamb said. “They always were encouraging me whether I was making or missing shots. They were telling me to keep going and keep being aggressive. Tonight shots happened to fall and they were encouraging me as well. Having teammates around you like that and a coaching staff like that is always good.” As this Thunder squad continues to gel with one another and develop as a unit, there are individual growth processes happening at the same time. The organization’s player development program has always believed that getting young players game experience is the most essential tool in making improvement. As a result, nights like Wednesday in Wichita, especially against a contender like Chicago, are such incredible opportunities for young players like Lamb and his peers to try to apply practice concepts into live action. “It was good because we have a lot of young guys and to be able to play those minutes felt good,” Lamb said. “To be able to compete and just play for each other was a good experience.” “It was a great experience and I tried to make the most of the minutes they gave me and just try to go out there and compete,” added fellow guard Rodney McGruder, who played 15 minutes and scored two points. “That’s one of the better teams in the league and to play against them and to go out there and get up and down, it gave me a little bit of knowledge of how to play the game.” Although the final result on the scoreboard wasn’t the desired outcome, the game was a success in the Thunder’s eyes for a multitude of reasons. Preseason games like Wednesday night’s are an opportunity to grow, learn and get accustomed to playing together heading into the regular season. The Thunder continued to work through all of those areas tonight, with the added bonus of doing it in front of a unique crowd. As the Thunder’s influence has spread throughout Oklahoma, the Midwest, the United States and the world, more-and-more cities are proudly cheering on the team. Tonight’s tilt in Wichita was a perfect chance for the Thunder to display itself in front of a rabid fan base that resides just a few hours north on I-35. “It was tremendous,” Brooks said. “We’re very fortunate to have exhibition games away from our facility in Tulsa and Wichita. It’s the best I’ve been in, in terms of atmosphere. The guys love it. We love to come back here every year and make this a tradition. Two years in a row we’ve had great support. The hospitality here and the people are as friendly as they get.”
The Thunder led by six, 84-78, with 7:18 left in the game after a Derek Fisher three-pointer off a Jeremy Lamb dish. Over the ensuing four minutes, the Bulls went on a 14-2 run to turn the tide of the game and put it out of the Thunder’s reach. The run started with back-to-back layups by Luol Deng and Mike Dunleavy, then Deng knocked down a 16-foot jumper, Derrick Rose hit two free throws and then Rose and Deng traded three-point buckets. All the while, the Thunder went 2-for-5 from the free throw line, missed four straight shots and turned it over twice.
PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN’T SHOW, FIRST HALF:
Beautiful ball movement out of a pick-and-roll gets Perry Jones a wide open three-pointer from the corner. Jones and Lamb dive on the floor for a loose ball to try to get possession back. Nice hustle from Lamb to sprint up court and find a seam to the lane in transition. Kevin Durant slaps the ball away from his man as he went up for a shot. Steven Adams does a great job of showing hard in pick-and-roll defense to stop a drive. Rodney McGruder dives on the floor for a loose ball and comes away with it, leading to a fast break. Derek Fisher tips a loose ball to a teammate, drawing a foul and gaining possession.
PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN’T SHOW, SECOND HALF:
Solid off-ball screen by Lamb to free up Nick Collison for a basket from the short corner. Reggie Jackson uses a pretty Euro-step move in transition to get a clear lane to the rim. Excellent backdoor cut by Collison after he slips a screen and Jackson finds him for an easy layup plus the foul. Andre Roberson does an incredible job in helpside defense to affect a shot at the rim and force a miss. Incredible vision by Durant to escape a double team and hit Adams on a backdoor cut for a layup.
“We competed on all areas of the floor – on the glass, on the dribble, contesting shots. Our offensive execution was good. We didn’t make shots in the first half, but we didn’t let that get us down and affect our defensive energy.” – Head Coach Scott Brooks