GAME IN REVIEWBy Nick Gallo, Thunder Basketball Writer
As the referees looked at the monitor, Thunder players and coaches got a glimpse of the Spurs' Tony Parker's buzzer-beating, game-winning jumper on the jumbo-tron. The team watched long enough to see Parker got it off in time, then moved on to the next task.
It was a tough loss on opening night, as the Thunder fell 86-84, but the team battled back from down 10 points in the third quarter to battle all the way back to retake the lead in the fourth quarter. Some teams may have wilted away in the closing minutes in a hostile road environment during a game in which new pieces to the puzzle were being assembled on the fly, but the Thunder's resilient bunch, led by Head Coach Scott Brooks, hung tough.
"I'm very proud," Brooks said. "You can just tell both teams are as tough as nails. Nobody gave anything up. Every shot was contested, every pass was contested. We missed some shots that they made us miss, they missed some shots that we made them miss."
Putting new members of the team together after the trade with Houston has been a challenge, but one the Thunder has embraced. Veteran guard Kevin Martin played 33 minutes tonight in his Thunder debut, going 4-for-10 from the field to chip in 15 points and five assists while boosting the second unit. His scoring efficiency will be critical moving forward as the Thunder continues to gel. The most important aspect of Martin's night, however, was the fact that he played hard-nosed Thunder basketball.
"We expect (that), no matter who we throw out there," Brooks said. "I thought K-Mart did a great job. Not a lot of time, but like I told him and told the team. We don't need time, we know how to play. One of the first things that we always do is just play hard. Playing hard puts you in a position to win."
Another area the Thunder can point to as a positive from tonight's game was the defensive rebounding, which had been an area the team wanted to address coming into the season. The Thunder was led by Kevin Durant, whose 23 points helped him pass the 10,000 point mark for his career, becoming the second youngest player to ever do so. In addition, Durant had 14 rebounds-12 defensive- as the Thunder out-rebounded the Spurs by nine and held San Antonio to only six offensive boards on the night as a whole.
"I thought Kevin (was big) in the second half," Brooks said. "I don't know how many he ended up with, probably eight or nine boards in the second half, but we have to keep rebounding. When we rebound, we put ourselves in a position to win the game. That's what we have to do."
Aided by Serge Ibaka who pulled in nine rebounds and Russell Westbrook who grabbed eight of his own, Durant and the bigs snatched up loose rebounds and even turned 12 offensive boards into 13 second chance points. In a game that featured 15 lead changes and nine ties, every possession was critical and it was up to each Thunder player to find their man, box out and snare any loose rebound that came their way.
"These guys are really good on the glass," Durant said. "I just try to do my part in helping the bigs out. They do their job by boxing out and they make it easy for me. Some of the rebounds just fall in my hands from them boxing out and sacrificing for us. I just have to continue to help them out."
In the NBA there is no lingering over one game in an 82-game schedule. The Thunder must turn around and host the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena for the team's home opener, but there are certainly some lessons the team hopes to take away moving forward. Having a game under their belt as a unit will help, and also finding ways to cut down on turnovers and find high percentage shots will be key.
The most important element, however, the Thunder already has in place – its will to win and togetherness. The leadership on this squad from Durant, Westbrook, Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins goes a long way in ensuring that despite the obstacle, this Thunder squad will never let up.
"Down ten, we just kept fighting," Durant said. "We made plays on both ends and we have to give them credit, they made some big shots… It was a tough game for us, a tough loss, but we have to move on."