“Steven.” “Steven!” “Steven!!” shouted Patrick Patterson, finally getting his frontcourt mate’s attention. Steven Adams cocked his head to the side once he realized he was required, noticed the situation and immediately sprung into action.
Patterson had sealed a smaller guard, giving him a wide-open angle to the hoop. Adams popped up to the high post, making eye contact with Dennis Schröder, received a quick entry pass then dropped a dime to Patterson on the bounce for an unhindered dunk. The Thunder was perfectly in sync, just as it was nearly all night in a 128-103 victory over the New York Knicks.
“It was quite funny how it happened,” Adams recounted with a smile. “I was just like what does he want?”
“We’ve been practicing together since training camp,” said Schröder. “That says everything about the chemistry about this team. We’re having fun. We play off each other.”
For the second straight game the Thunder made a charge right out of the gates, but tonight it was a different color blur that flashed across the Chesapeake Energy Arena floor. As Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club turned defensive stops into free-flowing offensive opportunities, there were five turquoise jerseys moving in sync to the rhythm of Donovan’s direction. In the crisp new turquoise City uniforms, designed to honor the Native American community in Oklahoma, the Thunder burst out with runs of 18-9 and 17-4 in the first quarter thanks to disruptive defense, taking a commanding 18-point lead that never dipped below 10 the rest of the way.
The pathway to the rim was carved by a relentless commitment to stay with what was working on offense - namely in the pick and roll. Dennis Schröder got downhill for floaters, but also found Steven Adams after the Kiwi big man set screens and quickly slipped into the paint to receive passes or draw defenders. Schröder, who finished with 12 of the Thunder’s 32 assists, easily made the right reads to get teammates involved as the Thunder’s offense hummed with 53.7 percent shooting, including a 16-of-33 mark from the three-point line and 64 points in the paint.
“I was just aggressive and Steven Adams did a hell of a job rolling,” explained Schröder. “That was a big advantage.”
“I managed to get our guards going downhill,” added Adams, whoo scored 19 points to go with 7 rebounds and a career-high-tying 5 assists. “There were a couple where the weakside didn’t help out so I got some layups off that. There were a couple where they didn’t stop the pick and roll and we managed to get downhill.”
In the third quarter, it was the Paul George show. The Thunder’s perennial All-Star forward went supernova by knocking down 5 of his first 6 shots in the quarter on his way to 17 points in the period. By coming off of pin down screens, careening through curls at the top of the key and receiving dribble handoffs, George was able to catch the ball on the move and shoot without hesitation, and it contributed to a nearly effortless 35 points, a Thunder season-high, on 13-of-22 shooting to go with 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals in just 29 minutes.
“We fed the hot hand with P,” said second-year guard Terrance Ferguson. “Everybody is cheering him on. We don’t care where you pull it from, just pull it. We know it’s going to go in, that’s the kind of player it is… When he gets hot it’s something special.”
“My body’s just been feeling good,” George himself added. “If I can just find open looks like that, I feel comfortable taking them.”
George accentuated his night with a pair of outrageous dunks, one in the second quarter off of a Schröder behind-the-back bounce pass, which enticed the entire Thunder bench to start raising the roof. By the time George flushed a two-handed alley-oop in transition from Patterson in the third quarter, all 18,203 Thunder faithful in Chesapeake Energy Arena followed suit.
“It’s been a minute since I had been up there,” George grinned. “It felt good to finally be able to dunk and make plays above the rim.”
While the start was similar, there was one aspect of this game that was very unlike the Thunder’s win on Monday over the Phoenix Suns: the second half. This time the Thunder didn’t allow New York to get any kind of traction or make this one competitive down the stretch. George and Adams never had to see the floor in the fourth, and the Thunder, decked out in its orange accessories to complement the new jerseys, rode off into the sunset with a victory.
“We gotta do a great job coming out in the third quarter with energy,” said Schröder, who scored 15 points to go with the 12 assists. “That’s what we did – showed our hands on the defensive end and played with pace on offense.”
“Teams are going to make runs,” said Ferguson. “We just gotta hold our ground and play the same way we started and that was aggressive defense, pushing the ball in transition and finding the open man.”
For the Thunder, winners of 9-out-of-10 games, all without Andre Roberson and the last four without Russell Westbrook, even being shorthanded minus a defensive stopper and former MVP can’t stop the amount of fun that is emanating from the court. Between the dives for loose balls, sharp passes to teammates for open jumpers and fleet-footed closeouts on defense are a bunch of guys who are putting the team first, playing for one another and leaving it all out on the floor. In this league, that’s how you get results.
“It’s a special group. We just try to improve every day in practice and the games and stay together as a unit,” said Schröder.
“We are just tightening screws,” added George. “We want to play our best ball at the end of the year and hopefully we have everybody back at that point. We are taking strides, learning each game, seeing what works and what doesn’t.”
Highlights: Thunder 128, Knicks 103