Thunder Uses Familiar Style to Win Final Home Preseason Game

Kendrick Perkins waited it out in the far corner of the court, finally hopping into the center circle to prepare for tip off. It was one of many signs that three weeks into the preseason, the Thunder is getting back into its rhythm.

Perkins, guard Thabo Sefolosha and James Harden all returned to the floor for the Thunder in Sunday night’s 108-101 victory over the Denver Nuggets in the team’s final home preseason game of the year. The trio combined had only played in one preseason game before this one, when Harden saw action against the Houston Rockets in Hidalgo, Tex. on October 10th. It was clear that having the full starting lineup of Russell Westbrook, Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Perkins, along with its standard second unit, gave the Thunder a sense of comfort and a familiar playing style.

“It was good to have Thabo, James and Perk back,” Durant said. “They always add something to your team. Perk was great tonight defensively and offensively and helped Serge out a lot. Thabo was really good always being active on both ends. James, of course, was James. Passing, getting to the rim and making plays. It’s good to have those guys back.”

Head Coach Scott Brooks further helped the re-immersion process by sticking with a fairly similar rotation style to the one employed by the team during the season. As the Thunder approaches regular season play, getting re-acquainted with the standard personnel combinations and minute distributions will help each player understand their role. On Sunday the Thunder got that process off to the right start by using those minutes effectively by making defense its priority.

“Just to have the whole group back and play the way we know how to play, I think we made a conscious effort of coming out strong with the defense,” Sefolosha said. “And I think we did that, so it was good.”

The Thunder jumped out to a 12-3 lead to start the game, thanks to stout defense and a hot 5-for-6 shooting start. In fact, led by Serge Ibaka’s 10 points (six coming from two corner three pointers), the Thunder took a 30-19 lead after one quarter. The Nuggets fought back and made it a tie game at the end of three quarters, but the Thunder’s second unit closed out the game against Denver’s starters, eventually pulling away to a safe margin. It was a positive for Brooks to see his young guys battle late and hang on for a victory.

“Your job is to do your job no matter who you’re playing with, no matter what the score, no matter what time of the game it is,” Brooks said. “You still have an impact… That’s what guys have to do. I thought our team went out there and did that, got a good shot every time down court and got some good stops.”

The tone was set for young players like rookie Perry Jones and second year man Reggie Jackson by one of the Thunder’s emerging leaders on and off the court – Durant. While players tipped loose balls to one another, saved offensive rebounds and made the extra pass, it was Durant chasing down a sure fast break dunk and knocking the ball away that personified the night. Even though it was a preseason game, Thunder players are taking advantage of every opportunity to play hard and get better.

“Every game is a real game to me,” Durant said. “Even though they don’t count, it’s a chance for me to get better. I just have to keep adding and keep improving. I just approach it like a regular season game.”

Over the past five years in Oklahoma City, Durant and team leaders like Russell Westbrook and Nick Collison have helped set those performance standards, particularly for nights like this one. Having new and young players like Jones, Jackson and Cole Aldrich on the floor with veteran players in a game setting is a perfect opportunity to help them grow. As a result, each Thunder player capitalizes on chances to play hard, not only for their teammates but with mentally preparing the regular season as an objective.

“You only win in this league with extra effort,” Brooks said. “If you don’t have extra effort, you’re not going to win consistently. It can’t be just certain players having to play hard… That should happen all the time, it doesn’t matter who it is, they have to do that.”