Russell Westbrook continues to ride the pine as his knee continues to heal. Even in the absence of the Honey Badger, Reggie Jackson, the Mini-Badger, has stepped up to provide an offensive spark alongside Kevin Durant, and the Thunder used a big 3rd quarter push to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers 103-99 in Manchester, England.
The Thunder relied heavily on guard and small forward play, featuring only 4 of the available big men. Only Serge Ibaka had a healthy dose of minutes, as Scott Brooks’ continues his preseason search for workable lineups. Reggie Jackson continued the great run he has had since the playoffs last season, putting up 29, slashing to the bucket, and finding his way to the charity stripe several times on top of that. Jeremy Lamb, on the other hand, struggled from the field in his first preaseason start, going 2-12, with most of his misses, 8, coming from beyond the three-point-arc.
Resiliency was quite evident in Tuesday afternoon’s win, however, as the bounced back from an average 2nd quarter performance, torching the 76ers defense for 35, and coasted through the 4th on their way to their second preseason win. Kevin Durant, who was brilliant against Philadelphia, tallied 14 of his 21 points in the 3rd quarter. Durant also pulled down 8 boards, dished out 12 assists, and added a block and a steal.
While it isn’t yet clear how the Thunder will handle the first 4-6 weeks in the absence of Russell Westbrook, they are certainly finding some working pieces despite lacking their engine and heart. The Thunder, mostly through slashing to the rim, dominated the paint 40 to 28, and added 21 on the fast break, showcasing the speed and court vision this young, dynamic team should put on display every night. The Thunder also distributed the ball well, assisting on 30 of their 40 makes, 8 of which came from Jackson, who will, barring injury (knock on wood), start the season at the point.
Steven Adams continued his quick development as an NBA center, manning the paint well with elite shot blocker Serge Ibaka. The team amassed 11 blocks in the contest, 3 and 2 from Ibaka and Adams, respectively. Adams did show some rookie tendencies, however, looking a bit hesistant and passive with the ball in his hands. He finished 3 of 4 from the field, with 6 points, but his offensive game still has quite a bit of refining before he becomes a legitimate option as the Thunder big man. Until then, though, his defense is leagues above what most rookie big men showcase this early in their careers. Ibaka looked pretty solid from the floor, but his post game still hasn’t developed quite like most fans would like. Serge only missed 7 of his 16 shots, but 3 of them were 6 feet or closer. The jump shot looks silky as ever, though.
No Thabeet, no Perkins, not much of a problem. The Thunder only conceded 28 points in the paint, blocked 11 shots, and controlled the glass. Nick Collison did not perform well, Daniel Orton fouled out with limited impact on the offensive side of the ball, and Steven Adams is still getting his new NBA legs under him. Serge was a bright spot, and this might be his year to finally shine.
Jeremy Lamb didn’t look comfortable facing a first team NBA defense. At all. Poor shooting, high turnovers, and low assists do not spell good things for him or for the Thunder, who will be relying on Lamb to be a sixth-man type player, especially early in the season. There’s still a learning curve for the 2nd year man out of Connecticut, and if he can learn to perform and not press too hard, we may see the Jeremy Lamb we know exists.
Just like in Istanbul, the Thunder were forced into 19 turnovers this game.As mentioned above most of them were from Jeremy Lamb, but Durant added 4 of his own. It’s still early in the preseason, but 19 turnovers is bordering unacceptable levels for a team with talent, but a lot of questions yet to be answered.
It’s still just the preseason, there’s still a long road ahead.