Defensive Discipline, Sticking to Principles
Date: Aug. 3, 2020
Tip-Off Time: 3 p.m. CT
Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
In its first regular season game in 143 days, the Thunder showed no signs of regression or atrophy against the Jazz. Out of the gates, the squad’s energetic defensive activity set the tone for the rest of the game. Thunder perimeter defenders pursued over ball screens and were sharp in their defensive rotations to help get out to an early 29-15 lead after the first quarter.
Offensively, the Thunder played well to its identity that it worked so hard to establish over the first 64 games of the season. For the 22nd time, six Thunder players scored in double figures which was indicative of the strong execution on offense for the Thunder. Even with the dominating presence of Rudy Gobert in the lane, Thunder guards found the seams, attacked the lane and finished at the basket.
“We had some really good ball movement plays, some extra passing and I felt we generated really good shots for the most part,” said Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan. “I thought we made good wise choices on Gobert at the basket. He's such an obviously incredible force at the rim protecting it, that you got to make good decisions because a lot of times his shot blocking ability leads to fast breaks for them and I thought we did a nice job of taking opportunities we had on him and also pulling it out and making passes in certain situations.”
The Thunder would lead the entire game despite a brief third-quarter lull where OKC’s offense sputtered and its sharpness wavered. OKC was fortunate that the Jazz missed a trio of open looks from behind the arc that could have swayed the pendulum in its direction to start the second half. It was a key lesson for Coach Donovan and his squad as they move forward in the regular season– sticking to its principles for a full 48 minutes.
“Our pace our tempo in the first half both offensively and defensively was really good. I didn't think we sustained that very well in the second half. And that's what you got to be able to do,” said Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan. “We just can't have those kind of lapses where we're not consistent enough in terms of our identity. That's what we're working to try to get back.”
The Thunder walked away with the commanding victory of 110-94 with the help of its six players in double figures. Leading the score sheet was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who racked up 19 points on 6-of-12 from the field while also dishing out an impressive six assists. Chris Paul put up a similar stat line with 18 points and seven assists.
The Nuggets are looking to right the ship after a blowout loss to Miami 125-105 in its opening game of the abbreviated regular season. Playing without three of their usual starters in Jamal Murray (hip), Will Barton (knee) and Garry Harris (hamstring), Denver struggled to find a way to replace their collective 43 points per game.
Still anchoring the unit in the paint is the two-time All-Star in Nikola Jokić who led all Denver scorers with 19 points and seven rebounds. At a towering 7-feet-tall and averaging 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, the Thunder’s defensive rotations and help-side defense will need to remain sharp to limit his production offensively. The good news is that OKC showed tremendous discipline in this area on Saturday against Utah and will look to carry that effort over on Monday.
“I think last night. We had some pretty defensive pretty good defensive things, as far as just being in the shell and showing guys a crowd when they're trying to drive,” said Thunder forward Darius Bazley. “Whether we’re playing against Utah or Denver or whoever it is, we still want to keep our same principles. Being in the shell and keeping those good rotations.”
Without the guarantee of Murray, Barton or Harris in the starting lineup, Denver’s main offensive weapon resides in the front court with Jokic. However, the Thunder has a great offensive answer in the starting lineup in Steven Adams. In its previous two matchups this season against Denver, Adams has averaged a double-double while adding in a pair of blocks and steals. In Saturday’s game against Utah, the Big Kiwi went 7-for-10 in a 16-point, 11-rebound performance. Keep an eye on the offensive production from these two frontcourt powerhouses on Monday.
Stat to Watch
Turnovers – One of the Thunder’s few lapses on Saturday were its 22 turnovers that resulted in 25 points for Utah. As a team that looks to control what it can control, look for the Thunder to put an added emphasis on taking care of the ball, making sharp passes and limiting points off turnovers for Denver. On the other side of the ball, Coach Donovan’s squad will look to put tremendous pressure on the Nuggets’ guards and replicate the 11 steals it swiped from Utah on Saturday.
Thunder forward, Danilo Gallinari notched his 1,200th career 3-pointer on Saturday against Utah. Adding to his achievements, his two makes from behind the arc marked the 14th straight game with at least two made 3-pointers which is the fourth longest streak in the NBA. Against Denver, look for the Thunder to keep that 3-point momentum rolling as the Nuggets struggled to contain the 3-point line in its matchup against Miami.