Takeaways From the Thunder’s Three Scrimmages

By Nick Gallo and Paris Lawson | okcthunder.com

In a span of six days down in Orlando, the Thunder simulated a normal NBA schedule, playing every other day. What was different was the start times, which spanned all over the clock, and so with those two factors combined, the Thunder got used to what its seeding games and playoff schedule will look like moving forward.

On Friday, Sunday and Tuesday, the Thunder squared off in scrimmage format against three high-level NBA squads – the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and the Portland Trail Blazers. The Thunder came away victorious in all three games in a variety of ways, including an emotional return for Andre Roberson against Boston, a 24-point comeback against the 76ers and a shellacking of the Blazers.

WATCH: Thunder Talk – Reflecting on Scrimmages

Communication – Inside the quiet gyms in the NBA’s bubble, the Thunder’s voices carry further and carry even more weight than they normally do. Celtics’ head coach Brad Stevens said that Thunder point guard Chris Paul dominated their matchup just with his voice. From calling out coverages, putting teammates in correct positions and simply cheering on the group, Paul led a Thunder squad that performed in line with the way it communicated on the floor.

Against Philadelphia, the chatter was not quite as on point in the first half, and it showed with the Thunder falling behind by 24 mid-way through the third quarter. When the reserves came back in, the focus and the talk both on the floor and from the bench picked up.

Continued Focus on Social Justice – Although players and coaches have resumed a familiar cadence of practice and games, neither party has lost sight of the ongoing fight for racial equality and social justice happening around the country.

This is why players like NBPA President Chris Paul have made daily efforts to ensure that the conversation stays top of mind for everyone in Orlando and everyone watching at home. Whether it’s a Zoom call with former First Lady Michelle Obama to discuss the importance of voting or educating his family and teammates on the life and legacy of civil rights icons like Rep. John R. Lewis and Rev. C.T. Vivian, players like Paul are working to move the needle forward in the nationwide fight for social justice, even inside the NBA’s Orlando Campus.

“It's important for us to keep that dialogue going”said Paul. “For us coming to play basketball is just a part of it, just a part of it. There's a lot of things going on in America that we can't turn a blind eye to so we'll continue to discuss things and figure out what we can do.”

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Shai’s Next Step – Coming back from a four-month hiatus, it was clear that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had worked on his body and improved his ability to accept contact from defenders on the way to the rim and absorb it from offensive players trying to get into position. Already gifted with a quick first step, Gilgeous-Alexander has taken his physical talents to another level with a better awareness of the game.

Against Portland, Gilgeous-Alexander was charged with playing heavy minutes as the sole point guard on the floor, something he really only did in a pair of games this season – at Toronto and at home against Dallas – when Dennis Schröder and Chris Paul each missed one game respectively.

Catching his breath after his first four minutes as the lead guard against the Blazers, Gilgeous-Alexander was crafty and precise in his approach to breaking down the Portland defense. Shai recognized that Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic changed up defensive coverages then decided to exploit it by baiting a switch with the center multiple trips in a row, resulting in a pair of three-pointers on his way to 10 points, 7 assists and just 1 turnover in 17 minutes.

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Darius’ Rookie Gains – After four months without seeing his players in action on the floor, Coach Donovan wasn’t sure what to expect when he and his team hit the court for the first time in Orlando. He was pleasantly surprised to see that several of his younger players, including Darius Bazley, took advantage of the hiatus and returned with a more muscular physique.

Bazley, who sat out of the Thunder’s last 11 games before the hiatus due to a bone bruise in his knee, recorded a total of 42 points and snatched down 16 rebounds in the Thunder’s three scrimmages leading up to the abbreviated regular season. His performance proved that the work he put in during the downtime put him in a position to be a valuable asset off the bench during the Thunder’s eight seeding games starting on August 1.

While 16 of the 22 teams will kick off the seeding games with action on Thursday and Friday, the Thunder has two more days of practice before Saturday afternoon’s opener against the Utah Jazz. That game will be at 2:30 p.m. CT and can be viewed on Fox Sports Oklahoma.


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