Thunder Aims for Road Swing Sweep in Melo’s Return to NYC – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC at NYK

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

Broadcast Information

  • Tip-off: 6:30 p.m. CT
  • Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
  • Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network

NEW YORK CITY – Thunder players burned the gas in their tanks down to the bottom and left everything on the floor in a triple-overtime win Philadelphia on Friday night. Less than 24 hours later, they’ll have to pick back up and do the same thing against the New York Knicks, and be ready for a full 48-minute battle, if not longer.

Head Coach Billy Donovan has been encouraged by what the team has been able to manage over the past two weeks, racking up victories in 6-of-8 games and pulling back up to .500 with a record of 14-14. Ever so gradually, the Thunder has shown improvement in its ability to maintain a consistent level of ball and player movement.

There are still certainly stretches in games, like the 5 minutes to close regulation in Philadelphia, where the growing pains re-emerge. But every man on the team is working their hardest and giving themselves up to the group to try and play the way this team needs to in order to function as a cohesive unit. In order to come up with another hard-fought road win, the offensive pace and tempo will be a high priority.

“For the way we need to play to maximize our team, we’re going to have to move the ball and share the ball,” Donovan explained. “We’re really going to have to capitalize on player movement. With this being something new, I really respect and admire their willingness to work through some of these things they’ve never done before in their careers.”

“We’re working towards that,” forward Paul George added. “Regardless of the record, we’re growing towards that direction on a nightly basis.”

While the Thunder continues to work on its offense, it’ll continue to lean on its stingy defense to stay in games until the bitter end. Tonight against New York, Donovan’s group will be focused on how to tamp down the offensive capabilities of Kristaps Porzingis all over the floor and Enes Kanter deep on the blocks. It’ll need to be a coordinated effort by the Thunder to keep the ball out of the middle of the floor, to close out to three-point shooters and to seal off defensive rebounds, but the team is coming off a game where it held Philadelphia to 117 points on 100 field goal attempts and 129 total possessions.

“Defensively we’re doing a hell of a job,” Westbrook said.

The undercurrent at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night will be the way Carmelo Anthony enters, is received and plays under the bright lights of New York City’s basketball cathedral. The New York City native spent six-and-a-half seasons playing for the Knicks, so much like it was for Paul George in Indiana and likely to a slightly lesser degree for Jerami Grant in Philadelphia, this three-game road trip for the Thunder will be equally as interesting because of the reunion aspect, and the theater behind it.

The Thunder slugged it out to get late-game wins in both of the two previous stops this week, and as the team rounds out a stretch of three-games-in-four nights, the group will rally behind Anthony.

“We’ll all be there for Mel, same way Mel was there for me the other night,” George explained. “He’s a veteran. He knows what level he needs to be at and knows what kind of environment it’ll be.”

“Walking in there, it’ll be a little emotional,” Anthony said. “It’ll be a fun game and a fun night… Tomorrow is a big game for us. If we can win that one and sweep this road trip, we’ll be headed in the right direction.”

Nick's Notebook

- Some teams are taking away the pick-and-roll action that the Thunder tries to run for Steven Adams, which is a crucial part of the Thunder’s offensive engine. It’s most usually created by Russell Westbrook, who has done a superb job of connecting with Adams, but the Thunder has also slowly but surely worked George and Anthony into the mix as ball-handlers in those screening actions. Donovan explained that in certain matchups that’s a huge benefit to have three playmakers because it can put certain defenders in binds that they’re not used to dealing with, and the players are excited to keep exploring the team’s options.

  • “That’s creating instant offense for us,” George said. “With Steven’s ability to screen and roll, teams have to pack the paint because he’s a lob threat. It creates offense and gives guys on the backside the chance to catch and shoot or catch and drive.”
  • “It’s just having so many different looks, having a combination of different defenders who have to play different spots in their defensive roles,” George explained.

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