Keep Cruising, Just up the Road, in Tulsa – Game Day Report: OKC vs. ATL
- Tip-off: 2:00 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
TULSA – Throughout the past 10 years, Thunder blue blood has pumped from the heart of the action in Oklahoma City, passing through the towns and hamlets across the plains to fill the entire state of Oklahoma with life and love for Thunder basketball. One of the major arteries has come in the form of old Route 66, now I-44, that spans from just north of Oklahoma City’s downtown up to the city of Tulsa, where on Sunday the Thunder will host a preseason game against the Atlanta Hawks.
About 36 hours since taking a positive step forward against a veteran Minnesota Timberwolves squad, the Thunder will face a much different type of team in the Hawks, which is one of the youngest teams in the NBA.
Atlanta comes in with new faces at the two on-court quarterback positions on the floor. On offense, that’s the point guard, and Atlanta will be running with Trae Young, the rookie from the University of Oklahoma. Heralded as an elite shooter and playmaker, the Norman native has averaged 13.0 points per game during his first two preseason contests, but is looking for a breakout shooting performance, having shot just 2-for-11 from behind the arc thus far.
Staying attached onto Young by fighting to stick with their matchup will be a crucial task for the Thunder’s guards to try to prevent a perimeter eruption from happening on Sunday.
“(They’re) really talented guys, especially around the perimeter,” said Tulsa native and second-year Thunder guard Terrance Ferguson. “I’m trying to take that away from them and trying to bring them into the paint where I have Steven (Adams) to guard them. So I definitely lead them to our help and just stay in front of them.”
At the center spot for the Hawks is former Suns lottery selection Alex Len – a 7-1 Ukrainian center who played at the University of Maryland. He’ll have to be the eyes and mouthpiece for the Hawks on defense, and the Thunder will be tasked with attacking the paint with tenacity to draw his attention.
Between the Thunder’s loss to the Detroit Pistons and Friday night’s tilt, the focus was on rebounding and controlling the area around the rim. That’s precisely what the Thunder executed upon against Minnesota, creating a plus-18 advantage on the glass and racking up 54 points in the paint. Despite defeating the Timberwolves, the Thunder knows it still has a ton to improve upon and work through. In particular, limiting turnovers and maintaining a tempo level for all 48 minutes are point of emphasis.
“We’re just trying to add up wins, stack up wins and find an identity for ourselves,” said Ferguson. “Each and every game, we come back and try to pick up on our mistakes.”
Watch: Keys to the Game
News & Notes
- On Saturday at practice at the BOK Center, Ferguson reminisced about his time growing up in Tulsa, particularly the days he spent with his brother. Walking from park to park, the duo would compete against the older kids in an attempt to prove themselves against the best competition around. Tulsa is where Ferguson developed his skills, and his tenacity.
- “It’s always good to come back home. I was born and raised here and got most of my family here. I’m excited for them to come out and see me play.”
- Just like when he was a youth, Ferguson is playing against and alongside the older kids now in the NBA. So far in preseason, with Andre Roberson sidelined, Ferguson has served as the starting shooting guard. Head Coach Billy Donovan has been extra complimentary of the hyper-athletic, yet disciplined Ferguson because of his ability to play within himself and try to eliminate holes in his game rather than try to go out and prove his scoring prowess. So far in US Cellular Training Camp, Ferguson has taken the good looks he’s gotten on offense but hasn’t forced anything. Upon the catch, Ferguson has transferred his summer lessons into the preseason, where he has served as more of a playmaker.
- “Just doing whatever the team needs me to do and whatever coach’s game plan for me is. I’m taking that in and doing it to the best of my ability,” Ferguson said. “If I have a switch, being able to guard the big man, fight over screens and be able to stay in front of my offensive player.”
- “I’m trying to do more off the dribble and do more to facilitate to other players,” said Ferguson. “I’m reading the defender. The big, or whoever is setting the screen, I’m reading his defender – whether he stops me or the other player. So I either keep going, or I get an open pass.”