This Thunder team came out of the locker room ready to play tonight. Perhaps energized by playing in front of their home fans for the first time, or maybe it was the two pre-season losses last week. Whatever the case, the Thunder came out extremely aggressive defensively and jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the very first minute of the game. Thabo Sefolosha, playing in his first pre-season game, lead the defensive charge early and was really the catalyst for the defensive effort tonight which was pretty much off the charts all night long. They weren't shy about crowding the passing lanes or playing pressure defense in one on one situations. It didn't really matter whether it was the starting rotation on the floor or guys fighting for roster spots, the intensity and defensive aggression was strong tonight, and if they take anything from tonight's win, its that defensive aggression leads to points, and eventually a win.
We saw Thabo make the difference defensively so many times last season after being acquired from the Chicago Bulls mid-season. Then with the drafting of James Harden, one would expect that his time as the starting shooting guard for this team became just a matter of how long it takes to develop Harden into a and everyday starting player. I think Thabo came out tonight and delivered a message to the Thunder coaching staff, James Harden, and the fans in the Ford Center. The message was, "My name is Thabo Sefolosha, and I'm the starting shooting guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder." He played 26 minutes tonight and scored 12 points on 5-6 shooting (including 2-2 from downtown), and had 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks to go along with that. Yeah, I don't really think James Hardens 9 points on 3-11 shooting (0-3 from downtown, 3-7 at the line) with 3 boards, 2 assists and 1 steal in more minutes than Thabo is going to get him into the starting lineup anytime soon, as long as Thabo stays healthy. Of course we aren't bagging on James Harden here, he is still just a rookie, but more of trying to convey how great of a game Thabo had tonight. We've got more thoughts on tonight's game inside, so make the Jump.
Even bigger news than the game tonight might have been the 15,000+ fans that showed up at the newly renovated Ford Center for a PRE-SEASON game. I mean, I'll be honest, with 82 Thunder games to watch and comment on, I don't really watch a lot of non-Thunder regular season games, much less non-Thunder pre-season games. Point being, I have a REALLY hard time imagining too many teams in the NBA drawing 15,000+ fans for a pre-season game. It just goes to show how much the fans here have embraced this team, and how much support they are willing to give them, even during the pre-season. Anyway, enough about how great all of you guys are, we already know Loud City has some of the best fans in the Country, so lets get back to more impressions on the game tonight.
Kevin Durant....Yes, KEVIN FREAKIN' DURANT! You might have seen all the hoopla on the net about the Kevin Durant "Conundrum" or whatever the hell it was. In all honesty, I didn't even waste my time reading it because its nothing we haven't heard before from some nay-saying journalist. Guess how much of that story you saw here? None, we haven't even mentioned it until now, because just like when he was injured for a few games last season and this type of talk started to surface, we blew it off knowing that it was complete idiocracy to think and believe this team would be better of without Kevin Durant. Just to prove his point, even though its pre-season, Kevin Durant went off tonight, and take a look at his stat-line. First of all we'll get his shotty +/- stat out of the way since it was only a measly +24 tonight, the highest of anyone on the team. KD scored 30 points in 31 minutes and was 10-16 shooting (5-5 from downtown, and no you didn't misread that, and 5-5 from the line) and pulled down 11 boards. All pretty impressive stats to say the least. Of course we couldn't list all the positives without the glaring negative stat for KD tonight, which was turnovers, and he had plenty of them, 7 in fact. I think thats forgivable though when you take over the game in the third quarter and build the team 20 point lead nearly single handedly.
We haven't even mentioned Russell Westbrook yet, and we're going to go ahead and just throw him onto the All-Star team as a starting point guard right now because dude is sick. Okay, so he may not be the best point guard in the conference this season, but if his progression can continue the way it has, he's well on his way. RW0 was 1 assist away from a TRIPLE DOUBLE tonight. Russ had 10 points, 10 boards, and 9 assists to just 3 turnovers. He continues to prove that not only can he play the point guard position, but he can do it well, while at the same time, continuing to do some of those other things that really set him apart from other point guards, namely his ability to battle in the trees for boards, and tonight's 10 rebound effort just further backs that up.
As for the rest of the team, well, they blew a 20 point lead so what can you say really? Aside from having a very young core of starters, this bench isn't very deep at all. At least its not in terms of them all being on the floor at once and being able to stay competitive. Now as far as working some of these guys into the rotation, sure there is depth, but just like the previous two games, it was the reserves on the court late in the game that blew the lead. Serge Ibaka was the one reserve today that stood out a bit as he looked great defensively, swatting balls like a Madman. Other than that, there was not a whole lot to get excited about. D.J. White was not able to continue he stellar performance from last Wednesday, and Shaun Livingston wasn't nearly as productive as you'd like him to be, especially considering he should be back near as close to 100% as he'll probably ever be able to get. He's not even wearing a knee brace anymore, and I for one don't know if that's scary or a good sign that the knee is solid.
For the most part it was a great night for the Thunder, even though it was just pre-season, it was still a win, and still a win in front of a large 15k crowd. The played aggressively and proved that they know how to get after and play defense. There is still a lot of work to be done before the season rolls around (someone please fix Uncle Jeff's shot), but tonight was a definite step in the right direction.