Highlights: OKC at DEN
The Big Picture
Following a 168-day offseason and a competitive, high-energy week to start Training Camp, the Thunder began its six-game preseason slate with a matchup against the Denver Nuggets in the Mile High City. There was no easing into the exhibition slate, as this one was high-energy from both teams right from the start with extra efforts on the perimeter and hard collisions in the paint.
The Thunder made a pair of big surges, one in the first quarter and another late in the third period when it scored 39 points. In the fourth, Denver cut the Thunder lead to just 6, but Jalen Williams created off the dribble with a hard crossover and driving layup, then found Lindy Waters III for three to give the Thunder all the cushion it needed for a 112-101 win.
Paris: We saw lots of great movement and extra passes early on for the Thunder’s offense. It’s clear that the Thunder’s continuity is paying off in the fluidity of the offense and working the floor to find the best shots. After one quarter of action, the Thunder logged eight assists on their 13 made buckets. By the end of the night, OKC finished with 25 assists.
Nick: On the very first possession of the game, Tre Mann settled into his helpside position at the elbow and made a steal. Throughout the first quarter, Mann continued to make the scrappy play - taking a charge on the baseline on Jamal Murray, fighting on an early post up in transition to deflect the ball out and even blocking a sure-thing dunk attempt by Denver center DeAndre Jordan. While the two step-back threes, including one that forced a Nuggets timeout, were more flashy, Mann’s ability to be an active, disruptive defender will be a crucial aspect of his long-term development.
Paris: We’re seeing how the length and versatility of Jalen Williams can impact the game for OKC. In one of his first possessions after checking into the game, Williams logged a steal under the basket from Denver big man Nikola Jokic. By the end of the first quarter, Williams logged seven points but scored them by playing in multiple positions. He spent multiple possessions bringing the ball up the floor and others playing and cutting off the ball.
Nick: Defending the Denver Nuggets is never an easy chore, especially with the emotional return of Jamal Murray to the offense. Yet despite going up against the 6th best offense from last season, the Thunder forced 12 first half turnovers, and didn’t allow Nikola Jokic to take a field goal attempt until the 6:40 mark of the 2nd quarter and allowed him just 2 first half points. While the Thunder came into the game focused more on itself than a gameplan to deal with the Nuggets, the team did a nice job of dealing with Denver’s two-time reigning MVP and the pass-and-cut style he imbues onto his team.
Paris: One of the main focuses for the Thunder this offseason was taking steps forward as a more physical team. One great way to test that physicality in the preseason is by going up against a bigger, more veteran team such as Denver. OKC showed their growth in this area by not letting the Nuggets dictate the physicality of the game. One simple way to quantify that physicality is on the glass. The Thunder not only out-rebounded the Nuggets 52 to 43 but also pulled down 13 offensive boards compared to 11 for the Nuggets.
Nick: Aaron Wiggins continues to make strides forward as an all-around contributor at the NBA level. Playing completely within the offense and staying ready on the wing for catch and shoot opportunities, Wiggins went 4-for-4 from three-point range on his way to 15 points in the game. Without having to dominate the ball or generate something for himself, Wiggins becoming a play-finisher could be a big factor in his ability to mesh in alongside all of the Thunder’s playmakers.
Quotes of the Night
"Good intensity - I thought we were ready to play from the jump. Obviously that was huge key, getting off to a good start. The starters were ready to play and the second unit did a good job to close the first half. Not perfect, but certainly good competitive spirit and hard play." - Head Coach Mark Daigneault
"Being around [my teammates] is always fun. But the big thing will be keeping it going as the season continues because everybody's like that their first game, their first practice, first couple games. So it's just keeping it going throughout the season." - Guard Tre Mann
The Thunder will make its way back to Oklahoma, but not to OKC. The team will have a day of practice on Tuesday before its annual preseason game in Tulsa’s BOK Center to take on the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday.