Thunder Falls to Jazz, Continues to Develop in All Aspects of the Game

Coming out of Wednesday night’s opening preseason game against the Houston Rockets, Head Coach Scott Brooks wanted to see better positioning, boxing out and execution on the defensive glass.

In Hidalgo, Tex. two nights ago the Thunder allowed 21 offensive rebounds, but in tonight’s game against the Utah Jazz, the Thunder allowed only four offensive rebounds in the first half. The Thunder ultimately fell to the Jazz 97 to 81, but Brooks sent 11 different players into the game, distributing the minutes and testing new lineups.

By the end of the game the Jazz got their hands on a few more offensive boards, but Brooks was pleased with the effort his team displayed in that department early on in the game.

“No question, the last couple of days in practice and our shoot around were very physical,” Brooks said. “We definitely did get better during that time and focused on rebounding. I thought the first half when they only had four offensive rebounds, that was a big part of what we were talking about before the game.”

Tonight’s contest was a great opportunity for the Thunder to work on the things it has been putting into place in practice over the past two weeks like ball movement, execution in the half-court and communication on the defensive end. Another area the Thunder seemed focused on was getting the ball to their wings and forwards on the block.

Against Houston, the Thunder made a conscious effort to give the ball to guard Russell Westbrook in the post, effectively inverting the court and creating new looks and offensive opportunities. Tonight, the Thunder did the same with Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Perry Jones.

“We have to be a defensive team and score off our defense and our offense has to be a quick-hitting, movement ball-sharing one looking for better shots,” Brooks said. “But there are opportunities to go into the post… We’re trying to figure out ways to get guys down there more often.”

While the Thunder’s primary offensive objective is to capitalize off a staunch defensive possession, strong defensive rebound and quick outlet pass to score in transition, there are times when the team must execute in the half-court. One way to throw a changeup to opposing defense is to initiate the offense from a different place on the floor, and getting touches in the post is an effective tool.

“Anytime you can just throw it down and space the floor, we have some good three point shooters, it allows the big to get a chance to score down there and work the defense,” Brooks said. “It’s not always a scoring play, it’s not always a scoring touch. Sometimes you have to look for your teammates.”

Young players like Jones had a nice chance to get extended minutes, and the Thunder’s first round draft pick was effective, shooting 6-for-11 from the floor, including two three pointers, on his way to 14 points. Throughout training camp and now the preseason, the Thunder has allowed Jones to mesh with the team as he continues to find a potential role. For rookies, particularly coming to a talented squad, playing time is difficult to come by, but the Thunder hopes Jones’ versatility will lend itself to earning minutes.

“It felt good to play,” Jones said. “I’m having fun, but it is real competitive out there… (I need to) stay aggressive, shoot the open shot and space out (the floor).”

Two other new players saw their first action for the Thunder tonight, as Hollis Thompson and Andy Rautins both got a solid run on the floor with a mix of players. It was a goal of Brooks’ to mix and match different lineups to see how players worked with one another. Whether it was young post men like Cole Aldrich and Hasheem Thabeet working with different players or Reggie Jackson and Eric Maynor seeing time on the floor together, it was an interesting study in team dynamics as the squad tries to improve with each successive game.

“You just have to play,” Jackson said. “That’s basically what we’re doing. We’re on the fly… Coach is doing a great job of just putting pieces together, even in practice we’re kind of familiar with each other. So, just getting out there and playing, everybody is trying to get better and learn their role and get better acclimated to the NBA.”