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.