Coming into the Thunder’s first preseason exhibition of training camp, Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault wanted to see what his team would be able to carry over from practice into an actual game situation. In the Thunder’s 121-108 win over San Antonio, Daigneault was pleased that among several aspects, toughness was on display as the squad was tested with the highs of a 20-point lead and the intensity of a fourth-quarter, two-point margin.
“I thought all in all the guys did a really good job of just sticking to what we've worked on all week,” said Daigneault following the game. “Just like in a practice, it doesn't matter if it's preseason or practice or a game, we're always trying to get better and I thought the carryover was really good.”
“There was sure toughness that we were able to kind of handle the games ups and downs. So it shows us a lot about our team,” said Thunder guard Frank Jackson. “We're not willing to give up on plays. That's positive and really reassuring to see that attitude.”
As far as tangible principles of the game, it was ball movement for the Thunder that shined on the offensive end. Quick tempo and pace allowed the squad to generate quality looks on the perimeter which benefitted the group’s hot hand on Saturday. This translated to an impressive 17-31 showing from behind the arc and an overall 43-percent clip from the field.
Mike Muscala, who contributed 18 points on a perfect 4-4 from the 3-point line, attributed the performance to multiple factors.
“The reps we’ve been getting in practice scripting our offense, playing against each other in practice and trying to be aware of our angles on our screens and running the floor, getting those looks,” said Muscala after the game.
Additionally, by sharing the ball, moving quickly up the floor in transition and keeping a spaced and balanced floor, the Thunder was able to withstand the various ebbs and flows of the game. The Thunder built up its largest lead of the game in the third quarter with a 20-point buffer over San Antonio, but a lull in scoring allowed the Spurs to bring the game ultimately back to two points in the fourth quarter.
Coach Daigneault applauded the group’s ability to remain focused on the principles laid out in training camp which helped to maintain the lead through the end of the game. Ultimately, the Thunder’s balanced attack on the offensive end led to seven players scoring in double figures with rookie Théo Maledon leading the way with 20.
“The ball movement tonight was really good and obviously we made shots, especially in the first half. But there were lapses in the game offensively where the shots weren’t going in, but we sustained with the ball movement,” said Daigneault. “There was a lot of trust there. Balance is hard to defend, and I thought we were a balanced team tonight. The guys trusted each other. It’s a credit to the work they put in and they carried that over from the week.”
For players like Maledon and Jackson, it was their first opportunity to put on a Thunder uniform and face an actual opponent. Whether it’s a rookie like Maledon or a third-year player like Jackson, the team embraced the chance to compete and get to work with their new squad.
“It was a blessing for me,” said Maledon. “Just being able to be back on the court with my teammates and compete was really a blessing, and I really enjoyed it.”
“Right into it, I think this is a great group of guys who are hungry and who are willing to work and push the ball up the floor. So it was a lot of fun being out there tonight,” said Jackson.
“I enjoy being around the guys and I enjoy that no matter what the circumstances. I enjoyed it night and I'll enjoy it next game,” said Daigneault. “I'm happy with how they played, and they should be really happy with the game. We just got to keep getting better now.”
For now, the Thunder will return to Oklahoma City for four days of practice before its final two preseason games, at home on December 16 and 18 against Chicago.