Taking Care of Business - OKC 92, CHI 79

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

It all started with a simple drive.

Thunder guard Alex Abrines blew past his man going left into the paint, swung the ball down the baseline to Josh Huestis in the right corner, who hit Raymond Felton, who pitched around the horn to Jerami Grant, who dished it immediately to Patrick Patterson in the left corner. There was no one within 15 feet of Patterson, and the Thunder stretch forward drained the three pointer.

Carmelo Anthony was on the bench at the time, but Patterson was right in front of him, so he had the best seat in the house for the Thunder’s best possession of the game.

“Anytime you can attack the rim or play downhill, make guys commit defensively, you’re going to get plays like that and shots like that. We did a great job of moving the ball around the horn, and as a result Pat got a great shot in the corner,” Anthony described. “It started with Alex penetrating the basketball.”

That bucket was during a stretch where the Thunder’s second unit scored on five straight possessions to end the first quarter, raising the Thunder’s lead heading into the break to 27-7. This one never got closer than 13 points the rest of the way, as Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club blasted the Chicago Bulls 92-79.

EXPLOSIVE. Russ scores 17 in the 2nd quarter.

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“It’s important for us to come out and help the first unit, however they’re going, pick up the energy or sustain what they’re doing,” said forward Jerami Grant, who finished with a 15-point, 11-rebound double-double.

While the Thunder’s second unit ran crisp, clean offense as soon as it checked into the game, it was the starters who set the tone defensively. In the first 5:30 of the game, the Thunder forced Chicago into just 1-for-8 shooting, with two shot clock turnovers. Those seven Bulls points in the opening frame tied a Thunder record for the fewest points allowed in a quarter in Oklahoma City history.

Walkoff Interview: jerami Grant

“There’s a lot of communication, a lot of trust and just a lot of pressure. It builds your defense to where you get a 24-second shot clock, the next time down defensively, you want to get into it again,” said forward Paul George

“(The first quarter defense) set the tempo of tonight and it carried us through the game. It got us off to a good start,” George added.

The Thunder’s offense wasn’t at its best on Wednesday night, shooting just 36.1 percent, including an 8-for-30 mark from the three-point line. So at the end of the first quarter when Russell Westbrook and Paul George were shooting just 1-for-6 from the field, it was the defense that ensured the Thunder still led by 20. Long, rangy defenders pressured the ball, were disruptive and forced turnovers all night long, which helped the Thunder build and maintain a comfortable lead.

PG/JG combine for 28p/16r.

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“The most important thing is the two guys on the ball, can they slow the ball down. We slowed the ball down in that first quarter because we had high hands in pick and roll coverage,” Donovan explained.
“When you’re helping, somebody is always open. Can the player with the ball see who is open and does the help get exploited, or is the defense and the activity and the hands so good that it creates a situation where you mask the vulnerability on the backside defensively.”

“That was the difference for us in that first quarter,” Donovan continued. “The guys who were open couldn’t make plays to those guys because the guy with the ball was under duress.”

Watch: Thunder Defense

For the game, the Bulls shot just 34.7 percent and committed 17 turnovers, which led to 22 OKC points, and the Thunder made seven steals and forced four shot clock violations. Oklahoma City overall wasn’t in sync as much in the second half, as it reincorporated Carmelo Anthony back into the mix after he missed Sunday night’s game against the Dallas Mavericks. Anthony did, however, rip off seven straight points in the first quarter, and finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds, aided by an 11-for-12 mark from the free throw line.

“I felt healthy. It was a couple days of getting my back right. Being able to get back on the court, I felt good today,” Anthony said. “I’m just glad to be back.”

That’s where Westbrook did some damage as well, going 7-for-7 from the charity stripe on the night while throwing home two monstrous dunks in rapid succession in a second period when he scored 17 points. For the game, Westbrook scored 21 points to go with five rebounds and seven assists. Westbrook and reserve point guard Raymond Felton got George going late in the fourth on back-to-back three-pointers, as the Thunder’s dynamic forward finished with 13 points and five rebounds.

The general takeaway from Donovan was that the Thunder played great in the first half, but didn’t come out of halftime with the same level of focus and execution. That maintenance of energy and discipline is something that Donovan has been pushing for all year long, because the more stamina the Thunder can have to move the ball and put pressure on the opposing defense, the easier their job will be on the other end of the floor.

“Tonight it was a second half for us where we were 7-for-32 and we had one assist in the third quarter. We didn’t on both ends, play particularly well,” Donovan explained. “It’s trying to build that stamina for 48 minutes. It really was not about Chicago at that point, it’s that you have to be able to play for 48 minutes and building towards that.”

By the Numbers

4 - Steals for Russell Westbrook, tying his career-best streak with five straight games of 3-or-more steals

11 - Rebounds for Jerami Grant, who also finished with 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting

32-for-37 - Free throw shooting numbers for the Thunder on the night, including a 7-for-7 mark by Russell Westbrook

The Last Word

“The commitment to making multiple efforts on the defensive end, scrambling, being disciplined, doing what we work on in practice on a consistent basis. On the defensive end we did a hell of a job of just sticking to what we work on in our game plan.” - forward Carmelo Anthony

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