It sure does help when you don’t turn it over and get a shot every possession. The same goes for when you deny your opponent a chance to even get an attempt up at the rim.
On Tuesday, in the Thunder’s final preseason game of the 2018-19 campaign, the first and second quarters showed the stark difference in what the game looks like when turnovers come into play in a major way. In the first quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Thunder lost the turnover battle 7-0, giving up 11 points off of those giveaways.
One period later, Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club turned Milwaukee over nine times and didn’t give away any possessions themselves as it returned the favor and outscored the Bucks 11-0 in points off turnovers. The difference on the scoreboard was massive, as the Thunder burst away for a 28-18 advantage in the quarter, eventually building a 12-point lead.
Watch: Thunder Battles Until the End
“We were back on our heels for a good portion of the first quarter,” Donovan said. “To start the second, beginning of the second, we closed the half out well and we played good basketball.”
“Once we started to understand the pace and the tempo we did a good job actively using our hands in terms of deflections,” Donovan continued. “We switched at the appropriate time. When they did get the ball in the lane, they had to take some tough shots. We contested better from the three-point line. All those things just got better.”
Despite the turnovers, All-Star forward Paul George kept the Thunder in this one in the first quarter, scoring 19 of his 26 total points in the opening period on 6-of-8 shooting. George finished the night 8-of-13, including 3-of-5 from three-point range and 7-of-8 from the free throw line.
At halftime, Donovan kept George, Dennis Schröder and Steven Adams on the bench, giving the trio a well-earned break after proving they are in regular season form over the past week. In the third quarter, however, the Thunder faltered from its ideals as an offensive unit. There were too many quick shots in transition, long two-point jumpers and isolation plays, and it will show up in contrast to most of the preseason film when the team looks at it this week.
“I didn’t think we played the way that we’re trying to play,” Donovan noted. “We got caught taking a lot of really poor, ill-advised shots.”
During the third, however, the Thunder did get a shot in the arm from rookie guard Hamidou Diallo, who made his first NBA-level start at shooting guard in place of the injured Andre Roberson and Terrance Ferguson. Diallo went 4-for-4 for nine points in the third quarter, part of a 19-point, five-rebound, four-assist effort on 8-of-16 shooting in 40 minutes of play, but Donovan is more pleased right now about the rookie’s grasp of the team’s defensive concepts, his motor and toughness than his scoring.
“We need (Diallo) to make good decisions in terms of when to shoot, when to pass and when to drive. That’s the most difficult thing for a young player,” Donovan said. “He’s smart enough and bright enough and is absorbing that information.”
The Thunder mostly rode the lead garnered in the second quarter all the way through the fourth, but the slippage in the third quarter and some hot shooting by Milwaukee turned this one into a tie ball game at the end of regulation, as Milwaukee’s Tim Frazier buried a three-pointer with 0.9 seconds left.
In overtime, the Thunder’s reserves, including a trio of training camp invitees Bryce Alford, Abdul Gaddy and KJ McDaniels, along with Nerlens Noel and two-way player Deonte Burton, all scratched and clawed. With under a minute to go and the game tied at 112, Burton, who won the Korean League MVP last season, nailed back-to-back three-pointers from the wing to seal the victory.
“(Burton) is just a basketball player,” Donovan said. “You can throw him out there and he’ll camn guard four different positions and if he was going against a center, he’d get in there and fight and battle. He’s physical. He’s tough. He’s got a competitiveness to him. He’s not afraid. He has a motor.”
By the Numbers
14 – Rebounds for Nerlens Noel in the game, aiding a 57-48 rebounding edge for the Thunder
19-4 – Advantage in second chance points for the Thunder on the night, thanks to 19 offensive rebounds
22 – Turnovers forced by the Thunder, including 14 steals, which turned into 26 Oklahoma City points
The Last Word
“Those guys came in and tried to play the right way … These guys are great, great guys, obviously fighting and scratching trying to make a team or our team. I have great respect for what they’ve done for our team in training camp and all how those guys have competed.” – Head Coach Billy Donovan, on the Thunder’s training camp invitees