25 points off turnovers and fast break points
October 30, 2013
SALT LAKE CITY – The Thunder can live with mistakes and missed shots because every night this season, it will live by its standards for intensity for all 48 minutes of each game.
In Wednesday's 101-98 opening night victory in a road tilt against the divisional rival Utah Jazz, the Thunder battled a young and talented team for all four quarters, earning a 1-0 record for this brand new season. Head Coach Scott Brooks' team's stated goal at the beginning of the season was to consistently build throughout the year to become a better team in April than it is now. It may not have been the most seamless victory as the Thunder shot just 41 percent from the field, but the team gutted out a victory and came away with an appreciation for how challenging it is to come by a road victory in the NBA.
"It puts everything in perspective," Brooks said. "It's hard to win a game and it's very difficult to win on the road."
"We'll take the win," veteran guard Derek Fisher echoed. "Anytime you can win on the road in this league, it's a positive. Obviously one (game) into 82, we have a long ways to go in terms of getting better."
Behind the momentum of a 7-0 burst to end the first half, including a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Thabo Sefolosha, the Thunder built a 15-point lead in the third quarter and seemed to be breaking away. The Jazz hung tough, however, eventually pulling to within one point and pushing the Thunder to its limits. In the waning seconds, however, Reggie Jackson and Kevin Durant knocked down a pair of clutch free throws to seal the victory. In fact, it was the Thunder's free throw shooting that was the difference maker tonight. Durant scored 22 of his game-high 42 points at the line as the team went 29-for-33 overall on the night. All ten Thunder players who saw action tonight hit a field goal, but even when the Thunder's outside shot wasn't falling, the team committed to attack the paint, creating extra opportunities to manufacture points.
"We're an aggressive team," Brooks explained. "We want to get to the line. We attack the basket. Knowing that, we're going to get our chances to get on the line. Our guys did a great job of stepping up and making big free throws."
Sefolosha and Jackson combined for 28 points with 14 apiece, while others up and down the roster made important contributions. Perhaps the most critical came from Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins' combined 18 rebounds, holding the physical Jazz to just 10 offensive rebounds and 15 second chance points.
On the perimeter, Jackson recorded a career-high five of the Thunder's 15 steals on the night, and that activity in the passing lanes led to 25 points off turnovers and 25 fast break points for Brooks' club.
The team's mental toughness to take pride in every defensive possession is innate, but it also stems from the message emanating from its head coach.
"On every possession, battle, fight, claw and do everything you can to stop your man from scoring," Brooks said. "It's the first game and obviously we have room to improve. We did that pretty well in the second half."
There are still certainly areas to tighten up on the defensive end in addition to teaching points on offense. Veterans like Durant, Fisher, Perkins and Nick Collison will help the team not just in the coming days but throughout the season to continue gelling on both sides of the ball as the team tries to be tied on a string defensively and constantly moving the ball on offense. While those details of the game will be ironed out through the course of the year, the Thunder did establish one aspect of its identity tonight – it's heart. The determination, concentration and collective will to win cannot be taught, and even though it wasn't a masterpiece, the Thunder is proud that in tough times, it has the mental fortitude to gut out victories like tonight's in Salt Lake City.
"By and large, the team that wants it the most that night and is willing to dig in the most, play with the most intensity and the most passion on both ends of the floor, they figure out a way to win games," Fisher said .
"It was not pretty, but this is something we can build on in terms of just that you have to figure out a way to win sometimes," Fisher concluded. "That's what we did tonight."
The Thunder's 11-1 run to end the first half and begin the second half was a game changer, even if the team's margin slipped to just one point on multiple occasions in the fourth quarter. The breathing room the Thunder needed to keep Utah at bay for the rest of the second half was earned behind strong defense and efficient offense. Leading 48-47 with 1:41 remaining in the second quarter, Kevin Durant made a steal and then created a give-and-go with Reggie Jackson for an easy dunk. Four Durant free throws later, the Thunder just had to make a stop to get one last look at the rim before halftime. The team forced a missed three-pointer, which turned into three points from the wing from Sefolosha as the halftime buzzer sounded. Coming out of halftime, Serge Ibaka nailed a jumper, giving the Thunder a 59-48 lead.
PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN'T SHOW, FIRST HALF:
Excellent box out in transition defense by Serge Ibaka to grab a rebound. Strong screen by Kendrick Perkins to free up Kevin Durant for a three-pointer. Smart move by Derek Fisher to push tempo and draw a foul in transition when the defender's back was turned. Nice play by Fisher to tip a loose ball to Perry Jones in the fast break to get an easy bucket. Great close-out by Jones to force an airball. Nick Collison stands straight up and draws a charge in the lane in post defense, then Fisher does the same a few possessions later.
PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN'T SHOW, SECOND HALF:
Hard foul by Perkins in transition to prevent an easy layup in transition, saving a sure basket. Nice drop off pass by Reggie Jackson in the lane to give Perkins an easy bucket. Incredible anticipation by Perkins to jump in the passing lane and deflect the ball, creating a steal. Smart work by Jackson to look ahead and get a pitch-ahead pass to Durant in an early post-up to draw a foul. Ibaka works hard to get around a screen to prevent an entry pass. Brilliant duck-in to the lane by Fisher to steal an entry pass.
"Our guys battled. We played much better defensively the last three quarters. I like what we did. We had a lot of good things out there but also had a lot of things we can watch tomorrow and get better and work on them for the next day." – Head Coach Scott Brooks