The Oklahoma City Thunder got off to a solid start despite missing starting point guard Chris Paul. A couple of runs in the first half helped OKC to a 15-point lead at one point before taking a 7-point lead into halftime.
The Grizzlies came out hot in the third quarter, however, and outscored the Thunder 46-28 in the period to take an 11-point lead into the final frame. After trailing by as many as 17 in the second half and by 14 with under 4 minutes to play, OKC mounted a comeback to cut the deficit to 3 points, but it was too little too late, and the Thunder left with a 124-119 loss to end the preseason.
Be Excited for the Regular Season
It’s really easy to overreact—in a good OR bad way—to preseason activity. The first two Thunder preseason games were exciting in a lot of ways, and the final two were a bit of a letdown, particularly that embarrassment in Dallas in Monday.
Still, if this preseason has shown us anything, it’s that this new Thunder squad has a lot of potential, particularly in the young guys. Expectations are low, and perhaps that’s a good thing, because it allows fans to enjoy every win and not really feel the need to sulk over the losses.
Tonight was a fine example of some of that exciting potential. In Chris Paul’s absence, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stepped up and shouldered the scoring load for the majority of the first half. In 28 minutes total tonight, Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 17 points on 7-of-13 from the field and 3-of-4 from the free throw line. He did his miss his two three-point attempts, but he also added in 5 rebounds and 3 assists.
Oklahoma City also had some impressive scoring totals from a couple of unlikely sources. Two-way player Devon Hall, who will spend most of this season with the Oklahoma City Blue, led all Thunder scorers with 19 points on 6-of-9 overall from the floor, which includes 3-of-6 from three, and 4-of-4 from the free throw line. He was extremely efficient in his 23 minutes of play. While he’s unlikely to see the floor much at all this season, who knows what he could be doing in a season or two?
Lastly, NBA veteran but Thunder newcomer Mike Muscala played just a little over 13 minutes tonight, but he put up 17 points on 5-of-7 from the field, including 4-of-6 from deep, and 3-of-3 from the charity stripe. Muscala isn’t likely to get more than 15-20 minutes per night, but if he can score anywhere near like he did tonight in the same efficient manner, he’s going to find minutes.
The Rookie Has to Play
I didn’t mention Thunder rookie Darius Bazley in the previous section because he deserves one of his own. His stat line tonight wasn’t particularly eye-popping—7 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assist in 30 minutes—but it’s indicative of how capable the guy is.
Time and time again this preseason, Bazley has proven himself as a playmaker, and at the very least, he’s incredibly fun to watch. This season doesn’t necessarily need to be about winning for the Thunder, and if opportunities arise, Bazley is a guy who deserves time on the court to see what he’s really made of. His ceiling is so high that I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the starting lineup in a season or two.
Thunder Player of the Game
Even with all the impressive numbers from the young players, Steven Adams deserves the nod for Thunder Player of the Game. Adams finished the game with 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting, 9 rebounds, an assist, and a steal.
What was particularly impressive from Adams tonight was that he took a hit late in the first quarter that sent him back to the locker room momentarily. He was not gone very long, though, and he made his return to the game early in the second quarter. In a situation where it looked like his play might be hampered, he continued to dominate down low.
Adams has a tendency to get beat up because of the fact that he’s a big man who isn’t afraid to play tough in the paint, but if Oklahoma City can use him wisely and keep him a focal point of the offense, they’ll be in good shape.
Next Stop: Season Opener
The preseason has come to a close, and the Oklahoma City Thunder now has one week to prepare for their season opener against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City next Wednesday. Tip-off for the opener is at 8 PM CDT. The game will be televised on Fox Sports Oklahoma, and it will be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM.
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