Keep Playing the Right Way, Shots Will Fall – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC at PHI

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

Broadcast Information

  • Tip-off: 6:00 p.m. CT
  • Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
  • Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network

PHILADELPHIA – Twenty-six assists, 13 three-pointers, 24 free throw attempts and 10 players in the scoring column, including seven players with eight-or-more points. Those were the numbers from the Thunder’s night in Indiana, where it only scored 100 points but played the right way for nearly all 48 minutes.

That’s what Head Coach Billy Donovan’s crew has to try to do again in Philadelphia against the up-and-coming Sixers. Even if the shooting percentages for the Thunder’s three All-Stars continue to be lower than they’re used to, if the Thunder continues to get shots that are typically high-efficiency, it’ll have a chance put points on the board.

Game Day: Paul George From Philadelphia

In particular on Wednesday in Indiana, the Thunder’s second unit of Raymond Felton, Terrance Ferguson, Josh Huestis, Jerami Grant and Patrick Patterson showed how playing with a get-downhill mentality and spacing the floor with shooting can be such an effective approach. That group of five scored 29 points on 10-for-19 shooting while racking up seven assists compared to zero turnovers. Felton had six of them himself, as he got into the paint and facilitated offense for everyone else.

That offensive flow at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters helped provide stability for the entire team, and the Thunder ended up with 26 assists compared to 14 turnovers for the entire game. Despite shooting just 40.9 percent from the field, the Thunder still managed to get the win.

“We’re doing a great job of sticking together, especially on offense. We’re moving the ball so much better,” guard Alex Abrines said. “That gives us confidence to play better defense and of course, make more shots.”

Game Day: Coach Donovan From Philadelphia

The 76ers, who have a dynamic and prolific two-way player in Joel Embiid in the middle, the versatile Ben Simmons on the perimeter and impressive role players like J.J. Redick, Dario Saric and Trevor Booker surrounding them. As a result, the Thunder will have to be ultra-efficient on offense in order to prevent deadly live-ball turnovers. When Oklahoma City is able to get back and set up defense in the half court, its ability to get stops skyrockets. For the season, teams are only scoring 99.4 points per game against the Thunder.

“We’ve been defending all year long,” Westbrook said. “Like I said since Day One. We’re a defensive team.”

Embiid can score anywhere on the floor, Simmons is shooting over 50 percent from the field, Redick shoots 39 percent from three-point range and Philadelphia is averaging over 26 assists per game. Clearly it’s a team that is capable of putting together hot streaks, and that will be the biggest key for the Thunder on the road in an excited, hopeful Philadelphia environment. Preventing those extended runs, like the 22-2 burst that Charlotte hit Oklahoma City with on Monday, is critical.

Those devastating game-turning jolts are often set up well before that, and they’ve happened more often than not in the third quarter against the Thunder this season. That’s why coming out of halftime and starting the second half the right way, with tough defense and a concentrated effort to get high quality offensive possessions, is a touch point for Donovan and his staff.

“The biggest thing for any team, and especially for us, is that you want to come out of the locker room (at halftime) and play well,” Donovan said. “Those first three or four minutes are important.”

Nick's Notebook

- It remains to be seen whether Andre Roberson (ankle sprain) will be available for the Thunder against Philadelphia, but his replacement in the starting lineup Alex Abrines is starting to find his groove. During the four games that he’s been in the starting lineup starting with the Thunder’s trip to Mexico City to face the Brooklyn Nets, Abrines is averaging 12.8 points per game on 16-for-35 shooting, including a 13-for-24 mark from the three-point line. Playing more minutes (26, 43, 26 and 32) has helped Abrines both get more opportunities, but also find a rhythm with the starters.

  • “I just have to thank those guys, Russ, Melo also and Paul George too for giving me the space and finding me in the open corner or out top, whatever the position is,” Abrines said.

- Another player along with Abrines who didn’t have a training camp to get ready for the season is also returning to form. Forward Patrick Patterson has shown very obvious signs that his knee is feeling much better, and as a result his movement and ability to play his true role has been more seamless. Over the past four games, Patterson has scored a total of 26 points on 8-for-15 shooting, including 6-for-10 three-point shooting. More importantly for this group, he’s been active and versatile on defense while serving as a conduit for fluid offense, helping to move the ball from side to side.

  • “(Patterson is) just being aggressive,” point guard Russell Westbrook noted. “We’re continuing to instill confidence in him and his ability to shoot the basketball and make plays.”

- The Thunder’s most vital weapon, however, during this stretch where it has won 5-of-7 games, has been the big man in the middle, Steven Adams. In the Thunder’s five wins in the month of December, he averaged 22 points, having scored at least 19 in each game. In the Thunder’s two losses, he averaged just 11.5 points. Overall, Adams is shooting 71.3 percent from the field since the start of the month, while also grabbing 10.1 rebounds per game.

  • “(Adams) has gotten a lot better at knowing the game of basketball, knowing his spots and picking his spots well,” Westbrook said of his pick-and-roll partner. “He’s worked on his game a lot and on his body, and you can see it.”

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