Big 4th Quarter Pushes Thunder To Opening Win

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

For the first three quarters and part of the last one the Thunder struggled to get much going offensively against the new look Philadelphia 76ers. Even on the defensive end guys were out of position and a step behind occasionally during the first 36 minutes.

At halftime the Sixers had 51 points on 50.0 percent shooting overall and 41.7 percent on threes. The Thunder had also managed 51 points but OKC was shooting just 43.8 percent overall and 20.0 percent from beyond the arc.

The 3rd quarter was even worse but in the 4th things finally started to click.

“We executed coming down the stretch,” head coach Billy Donovan told reporters in the postgame news conference. “Russell (Westbrook) made some great shots to give us the lead. Getting the ball to him in a specific area on the floor we did a good job of executing and moving.”

That had been a problem earlier in the game and center Steven Adams admitted as much during the postgame interview on Fox Sports Oklahoma.

“We kind of went away from how we wanted to play,” he told the TV audience. “Thankfully we pulled together and made some good plays down at the end, but it shouldn’t get to that. It was good that we stuck together and came back. That’s a positive.”

In that critical 4th quarter Westbrook scored 10 points, more than anyone else on the floor, on 3-for-6 shooting including a huge 3-ball that tied the at 95 with 90 seconds to play.

“It’s just taking my time, being patient, poised and managing the game,” Westbrook said about his big final frame. “It’s part of my job, to be able to manage the game at a high level and that’s a huge thing for me moving forward with this team.”

Enes Kanter had eight points in the 4th by also going 3-for-6 and Victor Oladipo, who had gone just 2-for-12 in the first three quarters, was 2-for-4 in the 4th putting six points on the board.

Overall the Thunder hit 47.8 percent of their shots and knocked down half of their 3-pointers while holding the 76ers to 30.0 percent overall and 20.0 percent from beyond the arc.

“The encouraging part was just coming down the stretch defensively, when we needed to get some stops, we did,” Donovan said.

The Thunder finished with game with a 13-3 run over the last 3:26 by forcing Philly into 1-for-6 shooting.

“There were some really good positive moments and there were some moments that weren’t so great. Those are the teaching moments we can learn from,” Donovan pointed out. “Even though the game for us didn’t get off to a great start, we were playing the right way. We were doing some good things.”

Those teaching moments begin this afternoon with a film session and a light practice. The Thunder will also go over a scouting report on the Phoenix Suns ahead of Friday’s home opener. The Suns dropped a 113-94 decision to the Sacramento Kings last night.


  • With 32 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists Westbrook just missed hat would have been his fourth straight triple-double against the 76ers. He led the NBA last season with 18 triple-doubles.
  • OKC dominated many of the team statistical categories outrebounding Philly 53-43, outscoring the Sixers on the break 23-9 and on second chance points 18-15. The Thunder also dominated inside with 46 points to Philly’s 32.
  • The increased offense shown by Andre Roberson and Kyle Singer in the preseason didn’t show up in the regular season opener. They combined to go 1-for-8 overall, Singler was 1-for-5 from deep. As usual though Roberson showed up big on defense with a couple if big stops in the fourth quarter. He also picked up two steals and grabbed seven rebounds.
  • The Thunder took good care of the ball, turning it over just 10 times. 

Not Pretty, But OKC's Defense Holds To Beat Philly.

By A. Suave Francisco

The season opener for the Oklahoma City Thunder was nothing less than exciting. Traveling to Philadelphia for a game that no one thought would be overly competitive, OKC was shell-shocked and may still be, after a 103-97 win that took an unprecedented amount of effort. 

This new-look Thunder team really struggled early in the game. The new faces include players that haven't seen NBA action until now and players that aren't fully acclimated to this Thunder offense, alongside Russell Westbrook. If you didn't already know these things, all you had to do was watch the game. 

In the first half especially, it didn't seem like the offense had any flow to it. 

This single-game doesn't need to be a judging point for a few reasons: It was a holiday for Philly due to the highly anticipated debut of Joel Embiid. Already mentioned, there's a ton of new pieces on OKC's team, including a starting rookie power forward in Domantas Sabonis. Not to mention, although Semaj Christon has professional experience, he's still an NBA rookie backing up one of the league's best players. 

However, no excuses. This was a good win for the Thunder, but they needed better offense from the reserves. There were haunting times during this game where Russell Westbrook and the Thunder looked like Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers of the past. It wasn't until the second quarter that Russell and Steven Adams' chemistry broke through. After that point, the offense got progressively better. 

Defensively, this team is impressive as expected. Tremendous hustle, and tenacious on-ball defense. Yeah, Embiid finished the game with 20 points and 7 rebounds in just 22 minutes of play, but the defense had a tremendous basketball game. He was just too quick for Adams, who finished the game with five fouls. Luckily for him, there aren't many players he'd guard with Embiid's skill set. 

The Thunder defense answered the call late in the game, something we couldn't say last season. They literally won the game because of their clutch defense. Andre Roberson had a good final stretch of the game, that included a block, denying the 76ers a chance to tie the game and furthermore opening an opportunity for his team to go up two possessions on the offensive end. 

Russell Westbrook did a great job leading this team by managing the frustration and struggles early on. He kept trusting his teammates, and they ended up answering the call. Russ finished one assist shy of a triple-double with 32 points, 12 rebounds and 9 assists for the game. 

Enes Kanter and Adams picked up where they left off last season. Kanter finished with 17 points, 12 assists, and Adams finished with 16 points to go with 5 rebounds. Oladipo and Ersan Ilyasova finished with 10 apiece. Five players scored in double-figures, but Oladipo will be expected to produce more throughout this season if this team wants any chance of contending in the Western Conference. 

As mentioned, this was a good win for the team. A wins a win. There were things that looked good and things that need work. Nevertheless, Oklahoma City is (1-0), with their next game at the Chesapeake Energy Arena against the Phoenix Suns. With it being this franchise's first game in OKC without Kevin Durant on the roster, expect a playoff-like electric atmosphere. 

Big Man Battle Could Highlight Thunder-Sixers Opener

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

After a month of training camp and six preseason games the Oklahoma City Thunder are finally about to play a “real” game and it sets up for what could be an interesting big man battle between Steven Adams and Joel Embiid.

It’s also the first real chance to see what the Thunder will look like without Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka and how much of an impact newcomers Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, Joffrey Lauvergne and Alex Abrines could have.

Abrines is good to go tonight after missing practice time with a bruised hip so the Thunder are fully healthy except for backup point guard Cameron Payne who is likely to miss at least another month with his broken foot.

Barring a big surprise Sabonis will become the first Thunder rookie to start on an Opening Night. Remember Russell Westbrook didn’t become a starter his rookie season until a few games after Scott Brooks took over from P.J. Carlesimo and Durant’s rookie season was spent in Seattle when the Thunder were still the Sonics.

Oladipo is expected to get the start at shooting guard with Andre Roberson sliding to small forward.

Adams continues in his familiar spot at center and he’ll go up against Embiid, the former Kansas star who is still technically a rookie since his physical problems have prevented him from playing since being drafted in 2014.

Embiid has had a solid preseason, averaging 11.4 points and six rebounds a game. Adams is quickly becoming one of the best centers in the NBA. His teammate and fellow “stache brother” Enes Kanter told reporters Tuesday the Adams-Embiid battle should be “fun to watch” but he’s expecting Adams to get the better of Embiid.

“They’re both talented big men,” Kanter said, “but Steven has a lot of experience so I’ll definitely pick Steven.”

Embiid, who is coming off multiple foot surgeries, is on a minutes restriction tonight. Coaches and medical staff are expected to limit the 7-2, 275 pounder to a series of five 4-minute stints on the floor. He has averaged a shade under 15 minutes of playing time in the preseason and won’t go more than 20 tonight.

"I have been waiting for a long time,” Embiid told, “I haven't played in two years, and I was a high pick and (Sixers fans) have been waiting for a long time. So it's going to be special for the city, for myself, for the coaches, my teammates, and my family."

Adams has gone up against a big 76ers rookie before. Just last season Jahlil Okafor went 3-for-18 in his first game against OKC with Adams blocking three of those shots and altering several more.

The Sixers are still expected to struggle this season but they have 10 players on the roster now that weren’t around the last time these teams played. The Thunder have six new faces.

So while a lot of the attention will be on the Adams-Embiid matchup there will be plenty of other storylines to follow.

Tipoff is set for 7:10, an hour later than what is usual for an east coast contest because ESPN will be televising the game nationally.

The Thunder will fly home right after the game to get ready for Friday night’s home opener against the Phoenix Suns.


  • The Thunder’s only loss to Philadelphia came in the first game the teams played on November 15, 2008 when the 76ers drilled the Thunder 115-85. Since that night OKC has won 14 straight.
  • The Sixers still have injury issues. Tonight they’ll be without Nerlens Noel (knee), Ben Simmons (broken foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist).

  • In two games against Philly last season Westbrook averaged a triple-double with 20.5 points, 16.0 rebounds and 10.5 assists.

  • Oladipo has a career scoring average of 19.6 points against the 76ers.

  • Kanter’s 24.1 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) last season was the 10th highest in the NBA and the best among bench players.

Thunder Surprise By Waiving Price And Keeping Christon, McGary also Cut

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

Semaj Christon, who’s been impressive since being acquired by the Thunder in a draft night deal with Miami in 2014, has made OKC’s 15-man roster at the expense of veteran Ronnie Price and his $5 million contract.

That was the biggest surprise on cutdown day, when NBA teams have to set their season opening rosters.

Price was cut along with 3-year Thunder veteran Mitch McGary and training camp signees Chris Wright and Kaleb Tarczewski.

Wright and Tarczewski will likely be signed by the Thunder’s D-League team the OKC Blue if they’re not acquired by another NBA team and McGary is likely destined for an overseas deal. If he signs with another NBA team McGary will have to serve his 15-game suspension.

The moves with McGary, Wright and Tarczewski had been expected but Price being waived in favor of Christon was a bit of a surprise though Cameron Payne’s injury helped pave the way for the move.

Payne is expected to miss at least the first month of the season and perhaps longer. Price, who was signed to a 2-year, $5 million guaranteed contract in August, was supposed to be the third team guard and a veteran presence in the lockerroom.

Payne’s injury made Price the backup and though publicaly Donovan expressed confidence in Price he struggled in the preseason averaging just 1.3 points on a horrific 16.7 percent shooting. Price also had to miss a couple games with concussion symptoms.

Christon then made the most of an increased opportunity to play by averaging 6.3 points on 47.8 percent shooting in five preseason games while also averaging 2.5 assists and 2.3 rebounds in 17.6 minutes.

He also had a great summer league and has performed at a high level during a couple of stints with the Blue.

Donovan didn’t get a chance to see him with the Blue but he was impressed with how much Christon had improved his game from the summer of 2015 to this past summer and on into camp.

“I had really recognized a pretty significant growth in his game, like I’d seen some pretty significant strides,” Donovan told reporters. “And I think when your eyes are off somebody for a time and they kinda get brought back to them, you can really see the growth somebody’s made.”

And that was obviously the case with Christon, not only to Donovan and to Thunder GM Sam Presti but to other teams around the NBA.

Had Christon been waived Presti would have been crossing his fingers that no other NBA team would have snagged him off waivers but that was becoming increasingly doubtful.

“I think he grew (in preseason games) a lot more than a lot of us maybe anticipated or expected which is a real positive remark toward the effort he’s put in trying to make improvements,” Donovan pointed out.

For the soft-spoken Christon it is a dream come true and a happy ending to what had been a sleepless night before cutdown day.

“I can finally sleep now, I couldn’t sleep for a couple days,” Christon said. “I don’t think I ever even went to sleep last night, I just sat there talking to myself.”

And he kept remembering what teammates and friends had been telling him for the last couple of years.

“They always told me just to trust the process and when I got the call I was happy I did trust the process. It took me a longer route but I’m happy I’m here.”

The Thunder roster is set now at 15 players, the team will practice Tuesday before flying to Philadelphia for the season opener against the 76ers Wednesday night.


Roster Cuts Coming Today For Thunder

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

The Oklahoma City Thunder have to at least be down to the NBA roster maximum of 15 players by 4 o’clock this afternoon which means four players will need to be cut from the roster.

The most obvious choices are training camp invitees Kaleb Tarczewski and Chris Wright. Each will likely be offered roles on the D-League’s OKC Blue. Wright is owed $100,000 and Tarczewski has $75,000 guaranteed.

Alex Caruso, the rookie from Texas A&M was cut a few days ago and had been guaranteed $50,000.

The difficult decisions will be between point guard, Semaj Christon and forwards Joffrey Lauvergne and Mitch McGary.

Christon was signed to a $543,000 deal with $200,000 guaranteed and the assumption was he would end up with the Blue again.

But Christon has been impressive in camp, averaging seven points on 48.5 percent shooting and 2.4 assists in five preseason games. His shooting percentage is better than starter Russell Westbrook’s (42.3%) and backup Ronnie Price’s (15.4%).

With normal backup Cameron Payne out until at least the end of November and probably until mid-December, some fans and even media have wondered if Christon might be the way to go.

But head coach Billy Donovan has praised the play of Price and his veteran leadership. Price also has a 2-year deal worth $5 million.

Then what to do at power forward?

Lauvergne, whom the Thunder acquired from Denver, will be owed $1.7 million if he lasts through the day and $854,000 if he's cut according to The Vertical's Bobby Marks. McGary is owed $1.5 million no matter what.

Lauvergne has gotten rotation minutes during the preseason and has responded by averaging 8.8 points on 50 percent shooting while pulling down five rebounds.

McGary, who is suspended the first 15 games of the regular season, didn’t play in the preseason. He was out the first four games with an injured foot and then stayed on the bench after being cleared to play in the last two games.

McGary has admitted to problems with marijuana and has also had trouble staying in shape during his time in OKC. The Thunder have been actively pursuing trade possibilities for months but so far nothing has developed to the Thunder’s liking.

The only thing that could prevent the Thunder from cutting ties with McGary is the chance of a hardship roster exemption they could receive for the final 10 games of his suspension. That would allow them to bring Christon, provided he hasn’t signed with another NBA team, up from the Blue to help out at point guard while Payne is out.

But that temptation may not be enough to keep McGary around with all the promise Lauvergne has shown.

It will be fascinating to see how the Thunder roster shakes out. We’ll update you on our Twitter feed page and will post an updated story when the final roster is announced.