Thunder Off To Impressive Start
By Randy Renner
First of all it's really not smart to get too fired up about a win or too disappointed about a loss in the pre-season. Neither team involved is very focused on winning the game, especially early in the pre-season. It's much more about seeing how certain groups and rotations work together, fitting in new players and in the Thunder's case how well a new coach and his system are fitting in.
All that being said the Thunder got off to a very strong start in the Billy Donovan era last night, blowing past the Minnesota Timberwolves 122-99.
OKC scored 42 points in the first quarter on nearly 80 percent shooting. Superstar point guard Russell Westbrook played less than half the game but while he was in there he was totally in control and nearly finished with a triple-double.
Westbrook scored 14 points, handed out 13 assists and pulled down eight rebounds. His superstar teammate, Kevin Durant, appeared to have no problems with his surgically repaired right foot.
“Once I got on the court, I felt right at home,” Durant said after the game.
KD also played slightly more than 22 minutes and finished with 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting while handing our four assists and grabbing a couple of rebounds.
Donovan's offense stresses ball movement to get players open and it seemed to work just as designed. Seven Thunder players scored in double figures and the team shot 55.6 percent and handed out a whopping 34 assists.
“We had really good ball movement and player movement,” Donovan said. “We made the extra pass and had good looks. That was encouraging to see. They played unselfishly.”
“It felt like we were just playing our offense,” Durant explained. “That’s what we’ve been teaching for a week now. Moving, flowing, body movement, passing the ball and making the extra pass. Guys did that.”
Thunder forward Serge Ibaka, like Durant, was playing his first game coming back from surgery and showed no ill effects. He dominated on both ends of the floor scoring 18 points in a little less than 20 minutes on 8-for-12 shooting (2-for-3 on threes) while also providing stout defense at rim.
“He was really focused,” Donovan said. “His defense tonight was really good. He was a presence at the basket, he shot blocked and he ran the floor very well.”
It wasn't all good news, there were some defensive breakdowns in the second quarter when the backups were on the floor. Rookie point guard Cameron Payne seemed to get flustered at certain points and turned the ball over three times.
Center Enes Kanter started the game and was outstanding on offense (16 points on 8-for-10 shooting) but on defense he had problems containing Timberwolves rookie Karl Anthony-Towns who scored 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting. But Kanter also blocked a couple of shots, altered a couple of others and picked up a steal so he did show signs of getting better.
Again this was a pre-season game against a team that's probably not very good but still the Thunder showed hustle and they showed just how well this new offense can work, providing open looks all over the floor.
The Thunder will practice this afternoon as they get ready for the first home pre-season game coming up Friday night against Fenerbahce Ulker from Turkey. Tipoff will be a little past 7pm inside Chesapeake Energy Arena and like last night there will be no TV broadcast available.