Plenty of Lessons, Takeaways in Sole Road Preseason Game
With extreme patience, tracking the reigning Rookie of the Year Luca Doncic, Hamidou Diallo’s face stayed stoic, his arms stayed locked upright and his feet kept moving. He didn’t bite on a pump fake, he didn’t lean in too far to initiate contact. The shot clock drained away and the Thunder forced a shot clock violation on an early possession against the Dallas Mavericks.
On the other end of the floor, Danilo Gallinari sized up his defender, the 7-foot-3 Serbian center Boban Marjanovic. Despite a stature that deemed him worthy as a dangerously imposing villain in the Hollywood action film John Wick 3, Marjanovic’s size and length wasn’t enough to thwart Gallinari, who dribbled right, side-stepped left and buried a step-back three, part of a 16-point, 6-rebound effort.
“It’s tough, but I know Bobie too well, so I knew how to do it,” Gallinari grinned about his three over the towering Marjanovic.
In the early going on Monday night the shorthanded Thunder, playing without Chris Paul and Steven Adams, hung in with the Mavericks in a rematch of the preseason opener. Eventually though, the combination of Doncic and fellow Dallas star Kristaps Porzingis were too much for the Thunder in its third preseason tilt. The Mavericks broke it open with a pair of 11-0 runs, one in the first and another in the second quarter, to run out to a firm victory.
Despite a 107-70 loss, and one in which the Thunder had trouble scoring from the floor (32.6 percent) from behind the arc (14.7 percent) and at the free throw line (56.2 percent). In fact, the Thunder shot just 6-of-44 (13.6 percent) on shots outside of the paint in the game, but managed to learn more about itself in one of just four dress rehearsals before the season begins on Oct. 23 at the Utah Jazz.
After the game, Head Coach Billy Donovan noted that this game would be an important lesson for the Thunder moving forward in not allowing themselves to get distracted from the gameplan offensively just because shots aren’t falling. After the opening minutes in the first quarter, the Thunder’s dedication to downhill attacks that draw defenders and lead to kickouts waned, leaving an opening for isolation basketball and low efficiency shot attempts.
“We started off with the right intention, trying to play the right way. We missed some shots and had some opportunities,” Donovan said. “It was a good lesson for us in the sense that we have to play together and have to help one another.”
“We’ve got to be willing to generate a good shot, the best shot available,” Donovan continued. “We got a little bit anxious to just try and go somewhere and make something happen.”
Defensively though, the Thunder can be encouraged. Diallo was nabbed with a few questionable foul calls despite keeping his feet under him and staying in legal guarding position on multiple drives and post ups by Doncic. Though the Dallas combo guard scored 19 points, he shot just 4-of-10 from the field and had 6 turnovers under Diallo’s watch. The second year Thunder guard took a note from Donovan in the offseason and dedicated himself to the long-term goal of being a lockdown defender that can take on a superstar assignment every night.
“Great defense,” said Gallinari in review. “Throughout the whole game he had very good defense against a very good player. We need him like that every night.”
“He did a really good job. He was disciplined. He made it hard on him,” Donovan stated. “He’s gotta get used to guarding those kind of guys. He has that kind of ability.”
“Coaches have a high expectation for me on that end of the court. I just try to come out every night and do a good job on whoever I’m guarding. That comes with watching film and trusting your instincts,” Diallo himself said. “There’s a level of trust between me and the coaching staff.”
Overall defensively the Thunder can take some constructive feedback from this one heading into its final preseason game of the year on Wednesday against the Memphis Grizzlies. Overall, Dallas shot just 42.2 percent from the field, including 32.5 percent from the three-point line, but managed to attempt 40 three-pointers and 23 free throws. Those were signs that the Mavericks’ offense was getting to the spots they wanted on the floor.
“It’s a learning experience. We gotta go out there and be ready to play. We have to be the most energetic team on both sides of the court,” Diallo said. “We just gotta go back in tomorrow, learn from it and get ready for our next game coming up.”
Moving forward the Thunder has nine days and one more exhibition to go to refine itself as a team and get into full rhythm with one another. With leaders like Paul, Adams and Gallinari and youngsters like Diallo, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and rookie Darius Bazley, the team has a nice complement of exuberance and experience.
With this game as a moment to reference, Donovan’s club can reach forward for better in all aspects of the game as it moves towards games that count in the standings.