Game Recap: Thunder 102, 76ers 85
Much of the attention surrounding the Oklahoma City Thunder (6-3) this season has been given to their explosive offense, which had pumped out an average of almost 115 points through the first eight games of the season. On Friday, though, it was the Thunder’s defense that left a lasting impression. The 76ers (0-9) were held to 85 points, their second-lowest total this season, and managed to hit just 34.9 percent of their shots in a 102-85 defeat.
In particular, Jahlil Okafor was kept in check. The top-scoring rookie in the NBA was held under double-figures for the first time in nine games, getting harassed by the rugged frontline combination of Steven Adams, Nick Collison, Enes Kanter, and Serge Ibaka. Another Sixer rookie big man, Christian Wood, however, delivered an encouraging showing. The undrafted rookie free agent from UNLV punched in a personal-best 15 points, and matched a career-high with eight rebounds. JaKarr Sampson tacked on 11 points, as did Nik Stauskas.
While the Thunder were without Kevin Durant, they could still turn to reigning scoring champion Russell Westbrook. Even though he shot eight for 22 from the field, Westbrook finished with a game-high 21 points. He added a career-high 17 rebounds and 11 assists to his box line, producing a triple-double for a second straight game.
With 2:32 remaining in the third quarter, the Sixers trimmed their once nine-point deficit to one, 62-61. Out of the timeout, Westbrook responded, depositing the next four points, and positioning Oklahoma City for its third consecutive victory.
One of Jerami Grant’s key offensive functions, and weapons, is his ability to drive hard to the rim. Of the 30 field goals that the second-year forward has converted this season, 16 have been lay-ups, while 10 of his remaining 14 makes have come on dunks. With that context in mind, zoom in on Friday’s second quarter, and check out the second of two ferocious jams Grant provided in the period.
Grant tallied nine points, going two of 10 from the field. He chipped in on the glass, snagging six boards.
Brett Brown Said - On Oklahoma City’s defensive approach against Jahlil Okafor:
“Just that they’re coming at him from all angles. They’re very physical, very athletic. As a rookie...I just think it was a fantastic learning experience for him. ”
Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Rick Pitino is on the verge of entering his fifth decade in the coaching profession. Among his many ex-players and former assistants who have also gone on to become coaches are Brett Brown and Oklahoma City’s Billy Donovan. The two men happened to be strolling the sidelines as counterparts at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Friday Night. Brown spent four years playing for Pitino at Boston University, while Donovan was a member of Pitino’s two Providence College teams. Via the Pitino connection, Brown and Donovan’s paths first crossed in the early 1980’s.
“My sophomore year in college (1981), Pitino was trying to groom me to be a college basketball coach,” said Brown on Thursday. “So every one of my years, I would go to the Poconos, and coach five-star basketball camps. In my bunk my sophomore year, was Tommy Amaker, the head coach at Harvard, and Billy Donovan. So I’ve known Billy for a long time. And then I would go up and watch him play for Providence when he played for Coach Pitino when I was in Boston working for AT&T. So in full circle, here he his. Hell of a coach.”
Brown is four years’ Donovan’s senior. Donovan remembered, “I got an earful of Brett Brown stories while I was at Providence. I was always told, ‘Well, Brett Brown would have done this, and he would have done that.’ I was always compared to Brett Brown. He’s always been a great guy. He was a good counselor. He was a gym rat. He was a point guard. He loved playing the game.”
Donovan said that after not staying in touch for some time, he and Brown reconnected at this year’s NBA Coaches Meetings.
Prior to Friday, the Sixers’ most recent visit to Chesapeake Energy Arena proved to be one of their most entertaining games of last season. The hard-fought match-up went to overtime, with Oklahoma City pulling out a 123-118 victory. In the second half, the game featured offensive fireworks from the starting point guards, Isaiah Canaan and the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook. Canaan, who finished with career-highs of 31 points and eight triples, set the Sixers up with a six-point lead going into the fourth quarter. It was Westbrook, though, who took over down the stretch, on the way to a 49-point, 15-rebound, 10-assist triple-double. Canaan, then in his second season, saw value in the experience.
“Of course, can’t forget that,” Canaan said Friday, when asked whether he has fond memories of that contest. “It’s a confidence booster, knowing that you can do some of the same things he can. and he’s at an All-Star level. Just out there doing what I can to help the team win, and I’m sure he’s doing the same thing.”
Canaan was also one of two players involved in this Friday’s game that hailed from Murray State, a public university of about 11,000 students located in southern Kentucky, close to the Tennessee border. Canaan suited up for the Racers from 2009 through 2013, leaving the program as its fifth all-time leading scorer. Payne arrived a year later, then departed this June, after his sophomore season . The Thunder chose Payne 14th overall in the 2015 NBA Draft.
“I actually helped him get to Murray St. Glad to see he’s in the NBA now and hope for the best for him,” said Canaan.
Canaan notched two points Friday. Payne was brought in off the bench with 1:38 to go in the fourth quarter.
With the Sixers spending the weekend on the road, rehabbing point guards Kendall Marshall and Tony Wroten remained in Philadelphia. The team also decided to keep two other injured players, Robert Covington (right knee sprain) and Richaun Holmes (hamstring), back in the area. Brett Brown said that Covington could be ready to return to the Sixers as soon as Monday, when the Dallas Mavericks pass through The Center. Friday, Covington joined Marshall and Wroten in Newark, DE, where the trio practiced with the Sevens, the organization’s NBA Development League affiliate.
“They can get workouts against real people in real time, and expedite their delivery for their arrival to our court,” said Brown.
Holmes, per Brown, could be sidelined for an additional eight to 10 days.
The Sixers cross into Texas for a Saturday meeting with the San Antonio Spurs (6-2). The game is set for 8:30 PM EST. For the third time in his tenure as Sixers’ head coach, Brett Brown will coach in the arena of the mentor and organization that greatly influenced his path in the NBA. The Sixers have slipped in eight straight meetings with the Spurs, a rut that pre-dates Brown’s arrival in Philadelphia. They’ve also dropped 11 consecutive road contests in San Antonio. Gregg Popovich, the man who gave Brown his NBA coaching break, is now in his 20th season with franchise. Just days before the start of the regular season, the 66-year old Air Force Academy graduate was tapped to succeed Mike Krzyzewski as head coach of United States national basketball team after the 2016 Summer Olympics. This July, Popovic and the Spurs inked LaMarcus Aldridge to a four-year contract worth a reported $80 million. Aldridge has averaged 16.1 points and 8.8 rebounds with his new club.