Defense Leads the Way as Thunder Dominate Pacers

After a rough start to the first week of the 10th season of NBA basketball in Oklahoma City, the Thunder entered tonight as heavy favorites in an interesting matchup with the Indiana Pacers. At the end of June, the Thunder sent Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana in exchange for Paul George, a trade that many have deemed as heavily lopsided in the Thunder’s favor, but as far as the players involved go, that was not the case tonight.

The Thunder started off the game on the fire as Russell Westbrook dished out four assists in just a little over four minutes of play as Oklahoma City worked their way to a 12-5 lead. Indiana would rally quickly, though, keeping the gamer close thanks primarily to Oladipo as he scored an easy 14 points on 5/7 shooting. After 12 minutes of play, the Thunder led 30-27.

The second quarter was much of the same as the two teams battled back and forth for the advantage, but the defenses settled a bit, and Oklahoma City held Indiana to just 29.4% shooting from the field. The Pacers did manage to shoot 8/8 from the free throw line in the period, which kept them alive and hanging around in the game. The Thunder would head into halftime with a 54-48 lead.

Oklahoma City came out in the second half on a mission as they went right at the Indiana Pacers and pushed their six-point lead to 12 just four minutes into the third quarter, then to 16 with just under four minutes left. Russell Westbrook was outstanding in the period as he tallied 13 points on 5/7 shooting from the floor to go along with three assists and three rebounds. The Thunder would finish the quarter with an 86-74 lead.

Indiana tried to get back into the game in the fourth quarter, and the Pacers got to within nine points with nine minutes left, but the Thunder stayed in control. A major downside for Oklahoma City was any opportunity for a “revenge game” from Paul George was squashed as he fouled out with 6:15 left in the game after scoring 10 points in only 19 minutes of play. Despite George’s rough outing, scoring seemed to come from all over the place for the Thunder. The ball moved well, the offense was clicking, and seven different Thunder players scored to round out the final period of the game as Oklahoma City finished on top 114-96.

3 Quick Thoughts

  • The Offense is Coming Together: Despite Paul George’s poor outing, the Thunder did a fantastic job of spreading the floor, finding the open man, and taking good shots. Oklahoma City finished 43/89 (48.3%) from the field, including 10/27 (37.0%) from three, both well above the team’s season averages. Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony finished with 28 points apiece, Steven Adams added in 17 points, and the bench combined for 27 points. The team did struggle to take care of the ball as they were forced into 20 turnovers, but seven of those came in the final quarter when the game was clearly in the Thunder’s favor.
  • This Defense is VERY Good: Coming into this season, the Thunder were expected to be one of the top defensive teams in the league, and they set a goal as a team to be the absolute best defensive team. Just four games into the season, they look to be well on their way as they rank 2nd in steals (11.3 per game), 4th in points off turnovers (24.0 per game) and opponent points in the paint (39.5 per game), 6th in defensive rating (96.3), and 7th in blocks (6.3 per game), opponent points (97.5 per game), and opponent fast break points (7.0 per game). While the sample size of four games is very small, it is very apparent that this team is made to force opponents into turnovers, which creates scoring opportunities for the offense that likes to run and gun.
  • There’s Room For Improvement: As for tonight’s game, the Thunder made a lot of solid developments, but there is still some opportunity for improvement. After four games, the Thunder are averaging 16.5 turnovers. While it cannot be stated enough that chemistry and offensive rhythm takes time, taking care of the ball needs to be the focal point of the offense moving forward. Also, Oklahoma City ranked 26th a season ago in free throw shooting, making just 74.5% of their attempts, and through four games, the Thunder is making only 67.5% of their chances at the charity stripe. While the season is still young, this is the type of thing that can kill a team in close games. Russell Westbrook in particular has struggled, making just 16/28 (57.1%) from the free throw line. For a guy who was second in the NBA a season ago in free throws made and free throw attempts, that low percentage needs to improve quickly. If the Thunder can clean up both turnovers and free throw shooting, they will easily be one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA.

Friday Night Lights

After losing a close one to the Timberwolves on Sunday at home, the Thunder get a chance to redeem themselves as they travel to Minnesota for a Friday night matchup. The Thunder and Timberwolves tip off at 7 PM CT, and the game will be televised on FSOK. The game will also be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM the Sports Animal.

Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter and Instagram.

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