Tough Thunder Basketball on Display in Tulsa
Mentally and physically, the Thunder came to play in its 107 to 97 win over the Phoenix Suns, the fourth preseason game of the season. It started when Kendrick Perkins stepped near midcourt to bark words of encouragement to training camp invitee DeAndre Liggins just before tip-off. The Thunder’s intensity and the noise of the 18,233-strong, sell-out crowd came to a fever pitch late in the third quarter when Liggins dove on the ground for a loose ball, tipping it to Russell Westbrook who then fed Serge Ibaka for a slam dunk. It was the little hustle plays like that one that sparked the Thunder and its loyal Tulsa fan base throughout the night.
“That’s the type of basketball, that’s the type of team we are,” Westbrook said. “That’s Thunder Basketball. Laying it all out on the floor for your teammates and then you finish the play off.”
The Thunder flexed its muscles in the paint early by out-rebounding the Suns by nine in the first quarter, reeling in a whopping 11 offensive rebounds in the first 12 minutes of action. Ibaka and Kevin Durant hauled in eight on the Thunder’s 18 total rebounds in the first quarter, as the team jumped out to a 24-18 advantage. Things got close during the second and third quarters, but the Thunder used an assertive 12-2 run over four minutes in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
“We showed a lot (of toughness),” Durant said. “We kind of turned it up a little bit on the defensive end, but we got good shots. We didn’t knock some of them down, but we’re moving the ball really well. I’m excited about that. We’re going to come out and play hard and scrappy for 48 minutes. We have guys that are going to do that so we just have to continue getting better.”
Throughout the night, the Thunder’s ball movement was more than solid, it was accurate and purposeful. The team finished with 26 assists, backing up a 34 assist performance against the Charlotte Bobcats on Tuesday. Westbrook, who had five first quarter assists and finished with 12, was crafty and precise in his drives throughout the night, hitting cutting big men at with diagonal passes when slicing and dicing through the lane. The Thunder’s two-time All NBA team selection had a good night shooting as well, knocking down three three-pointers, including a buzzer beater to end the first half.
“I was able to get into the paint and find my teammates for open shots,” Westbrook said. “We do a good job of practicing that throughout the day. Tonight it worked.”
Second-year man Reggie Jackson showed that he’s learned a thing or two from his team’s starting point guard. Using a judicious, Westbrook-like push dribble to split double-teams, Jackson showed a knack for getting in the paint, keeping a low dribble and maintaining court awareness in choosing whether to attack the rim and when to dish to open teammates like Daequan Cook in the corner. The sharpness with which Jackson cut and moved through the lane showed a dedication to safe but quick driving that he worked on all summer long.
“I think it’s just kind of natural,” Jackson said. “Especially when defenders move in you have to be low and have quick change of direction and have a low dribble to keep it alive… You get a few early baskets and they kind of collapse and then wherever you see the defender come obviously that’s probably where he’s leaving an offensive man. I’m just staying aggressive and trying to make the right plays.”
The win was special because of the energy and effort on display by the Thunder on the floor, but also because of the setting in the Tulsa community. One night after holding its annual Blue and White Scrimmage at the new home of the Tulsa 66ers, SpiritBank Event Center in Bixby to a boisterous crowd, Thunder fans rocked the house in Tulsa as well. “It was great, it reminded me of being back in Chesapeake (Energy Arena),” Westbrook said. “It was a great, great crowd. The fans came out and supported us and we really appreciated it.”
Not only did fans get into the Thunder spirit by cheering on the team, they also helped the Thunder with a combined donation to the Folds of Honor foundation, which gives scholarships to children of killed or wounded American veterans. On Friday night the Thunder donated $10,000 to the cause, and the fans in the BOK Center donated an amazing $25,000 of their own. That combined $35,000 will directly fund seven scholarships for local Oklahomans whose parent has either been injured or killed in combat.