Oklahoma City wrapped up its preseason tonight in Denver as the Thunder took on the Nuggets in a matchup that was full of excitement for a game that has no bearing on the regular season whatsoever.
The last time the Thunder were in Denver, Russell Westbrook made history as he recorded his 42nd triple-double in a 50-point effort that ended with a buzzer-beater winning shot over the Nuggets. Almost six months have passed, but Westbrook picked up right where he left as he put up 14 points in the first quarter. Russ started off with a flagrant 1 foul just a couple of minutes into the game, but that didn’t slow him down as he led the Thunder to a 25-17 lead after one quarter.
The second quarter was highlighted by a few different plays from some younger guys as Josh Huestis caught fire knocking down back-to-back threes, Jerami Grant threw down an alley-oop off a pass in transition from Paul George, and Alex Abrines looked good in his return from injury. Oklahoma City entered halftime with a 49-39 lead over Denver.
The Thunder picked up in the third quarter where they left off in the first half as they jumped out to a 21-point lead off an 11-0 run before the Nuggets could even get on the scoreboard. Denver took advantage of Oklahoma City’s bench, however, and cut the deficit to single-digits by the end of period. The Thunder failed to score in the final 3:21 of the quarter, but they still led 69-64.
The same young guys that effectively gave up the large lead were the ones that helped spark something for the Thunder as Josh Huestis and Daniel Hamilton both had second-effort putbacks that led to points on back-to-back possessions near the start of the fourth quarter. Denver, however, stayed in it as they cut the deficit to one with 6:37 left in the game. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the Thunder caught fire as they made four threes in a row to open the game back up to a double-digit lead. Oklahoma City would finish out the game strong and come away with a 96-86 win, finishing the preseason with a 3-1 record.
3 Quick Thoughts
- This Team Can Play Defense: One of the expectations about this newly formed Thunder squad has been that they would be able to defend at a much higher level than last season (which wasn’t all that bad, for the most part). As the regular season draws closer, it is becoming more and more apparent that this group could put together one of the league’s top defensive efforts on a nightly basis. Paul George led the way on the defensive end tonight with five steals, and Steven Adams added in five blocks. With that type of individual dominance, it allows other guys to lock-up their matchups more effectively, and that makes this team dangerous defensively.
- This Team Can Shoot: Last season, the Thunder were dead last in the league in three-point shooting making just 32.7% of attempts from deep. In an ever-changing league that is shooting more and more threes, this above all issues needed to change, and with all the offseason moves that were made, it was assumed that shooting would improve. Tonight, the Thunder put on a shooting clinic at times knocking down shots from deep when they needed them the most. Oklahoma City finished 15-38 (39.5%) from three, which included four straight makes late in the game to effectively seal the win. If the Thunder can shoot consistently from deep, which they should, this team is going to be one of the most intimidating shooting squads in the NBA.
- This Team Is Scary: Last season, Oklahoma City put essentially all of its trust into one man: Russell Westbrook. This season, a superstar should be on the court at any given moment thanks to the additions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, and with some of the pressure off of Westbrook’s shoulders, Russ is free to develop his game into something even more unstoppable. On several different possessions tonight, Westbrook found himself deep in the paint before he quickly kicked it out to a wide open shooter around the arc. Last season, this wasn’t really a possibility due to the lack of shooting, but with all the options this year, the offense can cause problems for opposing defense in so many ways. A team that can score like that, while still playing aggressive, in-your face-defense is going to light up scoreboards and put fear into the hearts of opposing teams across the league.
And Now We Wait…
The regular season is just 9 days away, and it cannot get here soon enough. The Thunder will host the New York Knicks in their season opener next Thursday, October 19th. The game should be an exciting one as Oklahoma City recently traded Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott to New York for Carmelo Anthony. Tip-off is at 7PM, and the game will be televised on TNT. The game will also be broadcast on WWLS 98.1FM the Sports Animal.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter and Instagram.