Preseason Recap: Thunder vs. Pelicans

THUNDER – 102

NEW ORLEANS PELICANS – 105

RECAP:

TULSA -- Much like it is at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Thursday night’s crowd at the BOK Center in Tulsa was decked out in blue gear and urging the Thunder on in the final moments.

The Thunder came up just short in a 105-102 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, but it was an excellent opportunity for the team to continue developing and for Thunder fans in Tulsa to get a glimpse at this year’s squad. After Kevin Durant and the starters set the table in a back-and-forth contest that featured 20 lead changes and 14 ties, Head Coach Scott Brooks allowed young players like Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka to lead the team down the stretch, giving them an excellent chance to learn how to finish games.

“We got great experience for some of our players that haven’t played a lot of minutes down the stretch off a game,” Brooks said. “Even though it’s an exhibition game you still want to see how we perform and close out games. We have some things that we can work on and get better at.”

The Thunder built a 10-point lead at one point behind balanced scoring, including seven players scoring in double figures. Led by Durant’s 25 points, Jackson’s 12 points and nine assists and Ibaka’s 11 points, the Thunder moved the ball and shared it with one another throughout the night, racking up 24 assists.

In the end, the Pelicans clawed back from an eight-point fourth quarter deficit and took the lead with a Brian Roberts floater with less than a minute remaining. As the team continues to grow and gel, its execution late in games will improve and become more consistent, which is ultimately the goal for the Thunder in every aspect of the game.

“It’s a learning experience and we’ll get better from it,” Durant said. “That’s what the preseason is for, for those guys to just learn. Not just them but the veterans as well to learn more and more about their teammates and more about the game. We have to know the game and we’re just looking forward to another chance at getting better.”

In addition to Durant, Ibaka and Jackson, the Thunder got big contributions from Thabo Sefolosha’s 10 points and five assists and Jeremy Lamb’s 12 points and three assists. During the Thunder’s key second quarter to take control of the middle of the game, it got a major shot in the arm from Ryan Gomes, who scored 11 points on 3-for-3 three-point shooting in just 12 minutes of playing time.

Perhaps the most intriguing performance of the night came from rookie Steven Adams, who registered a double-double of ten points and a game-high 15 rebounds, including six on the offensive end. Adams is still a young player who will have ups and downs throughout the year, but it was encouraging to see his activity and his dedication to communicating on the defensive end as he learns coverages and rotations.

“You can’t be a good defender without a voice,” Adams said. “I’ve got to make a habit of it and make it more powerful and strong, as well as early. That way I can be more of an impact and make sure that our defense runs smoothly.”

As Adams showed on Thursday night, regardless of result on the floor the key is the standards by which works and how it is playing on the court. With that mentality, Brooks’ team can use its process-based approach to attack the areas it identifies that it wants to improve, like limiting turnovers and playing solid team defense. Always hungry and internally motivated, the Thunder will get back to work on Friday in practice to continue the getting better as training camp rolls on and the regular season creeps closer.

“One thing I love about our team is that we aren’t satisfied by losing a game,” Brooks said. “Whether it’s an exhibition game or a regular season game, we want to win every game… Those are the traits that you want from players. Those are the guys and traits we have in our locker room. Guys want to win every single possession.”

TURNING POINT:

With the Thunder leading 89-81 with 8:42 remaining in the game, the Pelicans went on an 8-0 run behind three free throws, a three-pointer from Brian Roberts and an Austin Rivers bank shot. In the span of just two minutes, the game was tied at 89. It was a back and forth battle for the rest of the game, with the Pelicans pulling away in the final minute. The Thunder pulled ahead 102-101 with 1:11 remaining on a Reggie Jackson layup, but Brian Roberts’ floater, two Anthony Davis free throws and four defensive stops kept the Thunder at bay.

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

Nice patience by Reggie Jackson to pump fake and pass fake to move the defnese then find Kevin Durant for an open three-pointer. Excellent head fake by Serge Ibaka to get his defender up in the air to clear a lane to the basket for a dunk. Beautiful cross-court skip pass from Durant to Jeremy Lamb for a three-pointer. Well executed pick-and-roll between Durant and Steven Adams, ending in a perfect swing pass from Adams to Ryan Gomes for three. Perfect turn-and-find by Ibaka in the lane on a pass to Gomes in the corner for three.

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

Good hustle and extra effort from Hasheem Thabeet to make multiple efforts protecting the rim and grabbing a defensive rebound. Thabo Sefolosha slaps the ball away on a dribble hand off to stop a Pelicans possession. Durant hustles back in transition defense to knock the ball away from a Pelicans player on the fast break to force a turnover. Durant follows that play up with a great contest on a shot attempt. Incredible team defense by the Thunder to force a 24-second shot clock violation.

FINAL WORD:

“We grew as a team and everything looked like it came together pretty well. We had stretches where we executed well, but sometimes the ball just doesn’t go in. There were a lot of good things offensively and defensively.” – Thunder center Steven Adams