If there is such thing as a “good loss”, I think the Oklahoma City Thunder had one tonight. Considering this was a preseason game, OKC comes out with a lot of positives to focus on.
The Thunder dropped this one to the Bulls 104-95, in front of a great, sellout crowd in Wichita, Kan. The Thunder played this game with only 10 men as Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Hasheem Thabeet, Ryan Gomes, and Diante Garrett all did not play tonight.
First of all, let’s talk about how great it was to see Derrick Rose in action. It was the first time Oklahoma City had played against Rose in over a year, and at times, it looked like he hasn’t missed a beat. He struggled with his shot tonight, hitting just 6-of-15 shots, but finished strong, burying the Thunder with the three-ball in the fourth quarter. Rose finished the game with 26 points and was 10-of-10 from the free throw line.
Let’s be honest though, this was not “must win” mode from Scott Brooks. With the game tied in the 4th quarter, Brooks pulled his starters and the Bulls left theirs in. In the end, the Thunder reserves just couldn’t keep up with the Bulls first team. I think we can all be “okay” with that.
In a game that saw Ibaka and Sefolosha both sitting out, Jeremy Lamb was given his first big challenge of the year. For those of you wondering about the loss of Kevin Martin, Lamb did his best impression tonight. He was terrific in the first half, going 6-of-9 for 12 points. He was a bit quieter in the second half though, and finished 9-of-16 for 22 points. He also added three rebounds and three assists.
Kevin Durant was Kevin Durant. He finished with 22 points as well on 6-of-12 shooting and was 9-of-9 at the free throw line. One thing about Durant is that he is really fun to watch in the preseason. He’s so good that he can use these games to try out different parts of his game. We got to see Durant test out his Dirk-like fade away shot, and also saw him go into “KD Takes Over” mode shortly before being pulled in the fourth. Durant was also fantastic on defense against Luol Deng tonight.
(Quick note: At one point, Durant drove in the lane and was fouled . It was a really unfortunate disruption as KD was attempting to jump off two feet for a huge slam. Not sure I’ve seen a dunk like that from him before.)
Steven Adams was fantastic yet again. Adams finished with 11 points, seven rebounds, two assists, two steals, and two blocks. Per 36 minutes this preseason Adams is averaging 12.1 PPG, 12.3 RPG, and boasting a 62.1 percent FG.
One has to think it may be time to ask the question: At some point this season, should Adams be starting over Kendrick Perkins? Look, I’m a believer in Perk, but if you watched the game it was obvious who the best Center on the Oklahoma City roster was tonight. At one point the Big Kiwi absolutely stuffed Carlos Boozer during a pivotal defensive stand in the 4th. If Adams can continue this solid consistency, the rotation should see a lot of minutes for the rookie out of Pitt this season.
One concern was Perry Jones, who started the game, looking lost still. He appeared to play loose and comfortable at first, but was not much of a factor most of the game. Jones only saw 18 minutes of play after getting the start. I’m starting to wonder if time is running out on Project PJ3.
Reggie Jackson chipped in 14 points as the Thunder’s third leading scorer. He looked confident and comfortable against Derrick Rose early, but finished 5-of-12 from the field, including 1-of-5 from 3-point. It was encouraging to see Jackson go toe to toe against Rose and not look out of place.
What to watch for
Attack the Paint
With Serge Ibaka a late scratch, the Thunder weren’t up to par with the rest of the preseason in the paint. After averaging 48 boards per game, the Thunder finished tonight with just 32. Steven Adams led the Thunder with seven rebounds. As for attacking the paint, the Thunder had 38 points, down just a little from what they’ve averaged this preseason. It was encouraging to see Jeremy Lamb attack much more though. He missed some shots that I believe, as the season goes along, he will begin making.
It wasn’t turnovers that lost the game for the Thunder. After averaging 19 plus in the preseason thus far, the Thunder had 15 turnovers tonight. Aside from Lamb’s five turnovers, the Thunder as a team took better care of the ball tonight. As stated before, the Thunder fell because their reserves couldn’t keep up with the Bulls’ starters.
Shooting guards shooting
Well this wasn’t what we expected. With Thabo slated to sit out, a mix of Lamb, Gomes, and Garrett were expected to play the 2. With Gomes and Garrett presumably battling for a roster spot, this seemed like a game where both players would get plenty of run. Instead, neither Gomes or Garrett saw the court. While Brooks probably has a lot of reasons for this, I think he was really pushing Jeremy Lamb to step up tonight. While the box score might not look special, Lamb showed many more flashes of being a game changer than he has in previous preseason games. When Lamb gets hot shooting the ball, he is an incredibly fun player to watch.