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Summer League Recap: Thunder vs. Miami Heat

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@thunder-nba.com

With less than a minute to go, Mitch McGary grabbed a defensive board, spun and immediately started speeding down court with the ball. A few dribbles later and the Thunder rookie big man had created a 3-on-1 fast break, resulting in an easy Andre Roberson dunk.

The next trip down court, the ball swung along the perimeter between Perry Jones, Mitch McGary and Semaj Christon until it eventually landed in Josh Huestis’ hands. He drove baseline and put in a tough layup to seal the Thunder’s 103-98 victory over the Miami Heat on Championship Day in Orlando.

The Thunder finished seventh overall during the week, but Friday’s victory was a capper on all of the improvement and hard work that the players, Head Coach Darko Rajakovic and the coaching staff put in. It was a full team effort on offense and defense that helped lead the Thunder to victory.

“On both ends of the floor, we showed a lot of competitiveness,” Rajakovic said.  

The Thunder shot 63.5 percent from the field, including 7-for-13 shooting from the three-point line on the afternoon. Rajakovic’s club continually got high percentage looks, outscoring the Heat 52-38 in the paint. Jones led the Thunder with 20 points, McGary had 18, Christon and Huestis each finished with 17 and Roberson scored 12.

“Guys played together, guys played with a lot of pride and we showed improvement in areas where we wanted to improve,” Rajakovic said. “Our rim running was much better than a week ago. We had a chance to see a lot of post-ups and creating a lot of points and a lot of action from the low post. Defensively, guys were getting better, especially rookies and new players with communication and terminology.”

Summer League Observations:

Hot start:

The Thunder started 11-for-11 from the field in this one, including 2-for-2 from three-point range as it built a 28-19 scoring edge before missing its first shot. Christon started the scoring with a reverse layup, Mario Little made a steal and finished at the rim, then McGary scored on a layup. Jones knocked down a three-pointer, Christon added another layup and Roberson hit a jumper, making it 15-9 with 6:44 remaining in the quarter. After a Heat timeout, Christon then hit a three-pointer,  McGary scored on a layup, Huestis and Little each hit jumpers and then Nolan Smith capped the hot shooting with a deep two-point jumper.

Getting out into transition:

The Thunder scored 19 fast break points in the game, including 13 in the first half alone. By racking up 12 steals, including nine in the first half, the Thunder was able to push the tempo and get out into transition. For the game, the Thunder scored 19 points off of 18 Heat turnovers. Roberson racked up four steals, while Little and Christon combined to make five.

“It was aggression,” Huestis said. “You saw it. We were able to get a lot of points in transition, and it helped us win the game.”

Perry Jones’ marksmanship:

Jones, who has been aggressive all week, had his best all around-game with 20 points, eight rebounds and a blocked shot. Jones shot 7-for-11 from the field, including a sizzling 4-for-6 from the three-point line. He hit a three-pointer from the corner, the wing and the top of the key, showing his comfort along the perimeter from all spots on the floor.

“A lot of things came to me within the flow of the offense,” Jones said. “Everything just worked itself out with the way we moved the ball. I credit my teammates for finding me when they did. I was able to knock them down.”

Huestis in the flow of the offense:

Huestis also had his best offensive game of the week, totaling 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting, including 2-for-2 from three-point range. The long, physical forward also had four rebounds and three assists to go with a steal. The 7-for-8 shooting came in a variety of different ways. From catch-and-shoots to slashing drives to the  rim and even a jumper off of a pin-down screen where Huestis curled into the lane, the Thunder rookie showed he can be a two-way player.

“It definitely could be contributed to the flow of the offense and everybody sharing,” Huestis said. “My teammates have been great in encouraging me. I think it was a matter of me being aggressive, finding my shots, finding my time, not forcing anything and letting the offense come to me.”

Ball Movement:

The reason for the Thunder’s incredible shooting display, which including 14-for-16 shooting in the first quarter and 71.9 percent shooting in the first half, was the ball movement. The Thunder racked up 25 assists on 40 made baskets and scored 103 points on only 63 shot attempts. Little led the way with seven assists while Christon added five, but Roberson and Huestis each had three and McGary had two in what was a team effort to share the ball. The spacing, timing and selflessness with which the Thunder played was influential in the final outcome and the Thunder’s offensive punch.  

“We were able to find the open man today and help teammates find their good shots,” Huestis said. “That led to those 25 assists and really helped us.”

 “The number assists at 25 says a lot that the guys shared,” Rajakovic said. “That was one of our goals coming into this week. We were shooting with a high percentage and a reason for that was that we were finding open men and knocking those shots down.”