Preseason Recap: Thunder vs. Nuggets
THUNDER – 109
DENVER NUGGETS – 81
The concourse and seats were filled with fans wearing the home team’s gear and as the Thunder emerged from the tunnel just before tip-off, Chesapeake Energy Arena was alive once again. On Tuesday night, the Thunder hosted its first home preseason game and in a 109-81 victory over the Denver Nuggets, it felt like the team and fans never left.
On the floor the Thunder set the tone immediately with its defense and intensity. In the first quarter the Thunder held Denver to just 27.3 percent shooting while going 12-for-20 from the floor itself. That lockdown effort led to an early 11-0 run that helped boost the Thunder from there on out. For the game, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team held the Nuggets to 37.7 percent shooting from the field and forced them into 21 turnovers.
“Going into the game we wanted to focus on playing solid defense,” Brooks said. “Our defense was really good tonight… Everybody really just locked in and we got better tonight.”
As the Thunder continues to work towards its overall goal of playing its best basketball by the end of the season, each day in October and every month in between will be a critical building block. With two weeks to go before the season begins, Brooks’ club understands that games like Tuesday night’s are both learning experiences and evaluation opportunities.
Led by veterans like Kevin Durant and Nick Collison, the Thunder showed where its early season focus has been thus far in camp. Behind 13 steals and seven blocks, the Thunder managed to rack up 26 points-off-turnovers, a major part of the team’s strategy of turning defense into offense.
“Our hands were really good deflecting the basketball, altering shots, rebounding and getting out and trying to get some early offense,” Durant said. “It was good to see everybody talking and using their length. When we use our length we’re a scary team on the defensive end. We just have to try to build on it.”
“In practice we really talk about being big, having hands in the passing lane,” guard Jeremy Lamb, who had three steals, echoed. “I think we did that. 13 steals is huge. When we’re a big team in the passing lanes, it makes it tough on the other team, so that’s encouraging to hear.”
Last year as a team, the Thunder led the league in combined blocks-and-steals per game, and those possession-altering opportunities are something the team hopes to capitalize on this season by using its size, athleticism, quickness and length. On the other end of the floor, where Durant led all scorers with a sizzling 36 points on 13-for-20 shooting, the ball whizzed around the floor and was moved unselfishly. Finishing with 24 assists on 38 made baskets, the Thunder created an even scoring distribution behind Durant, headed by 13 points apiece by Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha.
“We did a good job of talking and transferring some things in practice over into the game,” Durant said. “I just like the way the ball moved. Guys were touching it and the open shot was finding everybody.”
It’s still incredibly early in the season, so despite the Thunder’s 3-0 preseason record the team understands that the results on the scoreboard are much less important than how everyone is playing. Sticking to team principles like committing to defense and rebounding is how the Thunder will find long-term success this season, so the team will utilize tonight’s game time as a springboard as it gets back to work on Wednesday in practice. Shot-making and the bounce of the ball can’t be expected to be consistent in the NBA, so as training camp moves along, the Thunder is cognizant of one primary aspect of the game it can control – effort.
“The pressure is to play as hard as you can and play for your teammates, every single night. That’s your pressure. If you do that, everything will work itself out. That’s been our philosophy going on six years now.”
The Thunder used two bursts to break this game open, starting with an 11-0 run in the first quarter. With the game tied at 5-5 with 8:27 remaining, Thabo Sefolosha hit a three-pointer off a Kevin Durant drive-and-dish. After that, Durant made a steal and a layup, a dunk and two jump shots to create a personal 8-0 burst to give the Thunder a 16-5 lead with 5:54 remaining. The Nuggets never got closer than five the rest of the way.
Coming out of halftime, the Thunder went on a 22-10 run over a six-minute span to start the third quarter. That burst was also keyed by Durant, who hit three-straight threes to start the run, then added another three-pointer and a step-back jumper for good measure. During Durant’s hot stretch, Reggie Jackson made two baskets near the rim and Sefolosha got a fast break layup.
“He competed all night,” Jackson said of Durant. “That’s the thing I’m most proud of for our whole team. We just try to compete, come out and give our best effort and at the end of the night we hope it’s the best for us and we get a win.”
“(Durant) was pretty good,” Brooks said with a smile. “In the third quarter he was on fire from the three-point line, but we moved the ball well. We had some good sets and the guys executed.”
PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN’T SHOW, FIRST HALF:
Good perimeter box out by Thabo Sefolosha to put himself in position to get a long rebound. Kevin Durant uses his length to slap away a perimeter pass and stop ball movement. Durant hustles and slides over in helpside defense to make a block to stop a sure layup. Hasheem Thabeet shows patience on his roll to the rim to be ready for an alley-oop. Excellent backdoor cut by Sefolosha and a nice feed from Ibaka for a layup. Great awareness by Jeremy Lamb to keep his eyes and hands up in transition to make an unexpected steal. Ibaka slaps an offensive rebound back to a teammate to generate another possession.
PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN’T SHOW, SECOND HALF:
Excellent screen by Thabeet to free up Reggie Jackson with a lane to the rim. Ibaka tips an offensive rebound directly out to Durant for a wide open three-pointer. Nice length from Thabeet and Jackson to get in the passing lane and cause a loose ball that Sefolosha finished in transition. Jackson and Sefolosha battle on a loose ball scramble to take away possession. Steven Adams makes an athletic play to tip an offensive rebound to himself. Incredible hustle by Andre Roberson to fly in for an offensive rebound and then snare a loose ball.
“I think there was a little ease being out here, being back in front of our fans who can’t wait to pack the building on our home opener. It’s always fun coming over here at Chesapeake and playing, feeling the vibe of the fans. It was a good day.” – guard Reggie Jackson