It was the first time Oklahoma City got to see the Thunder play a game in person since May, and this game certainly didn't disappoint. The Thunder finally got their groove back, and showed that they could play with the best of the Euroleague in CSKA Moscow.
And it all started in the first quarter, when the Thunder went toe-to-toe with CSKA's big men in the paint. Given CSKA's great defense there, I thought the Thunder would resort to mid-range jumpers, but it turns out that it's a good thing that they didn't. Initially, it led to some bad possessions and lots of boring free throws, but Smodis and Langdon couldn't take fouls forever, so the defense relaxed, and the paint opened up. Dunks and layups went in, and the Thunder even succeeded in getting a couple of wide open threes. CSKA's offense, meanwhile, was what you would expect it to be. Lots of picks, lots of fundamental shots, and a few dumps off to the big men in the paint. And when the big men got it in the paint, the Thunder would usually block the shot. Throughout the game, there were a lot of goaltending calls on the Thunder, but judging on the amount of blocks Ibaka got (6), it was clear that the athleticism payed off.
Below: The 2nd-4th Quarters, Ranting, Awards!
The second quarter was more of an even keel. BJ Mullens got three baskets in a row (two at the end of the first, one in the beginning of the second), and it was awesome to finally see some upside from this guy. His defense was still lacking, though, as he allowed a dunk and a wide open three. The rest of the scoring was accomplished mostly by the tandem of Durant, Harden, and Green, who were shooting well. By the end of the quarter, the Thunder had gotten a few fast break plays going. Moscow was continuing to shoot jumpers, and some of their more athletic players started driving the lane.
The third was a defensively minded quarter where it really got out of hand for CSKA Moscow. Serge Ibaka dominated the paint, scoring 10 of the Thunder's 20 points in the quarter. The Red Army continually missed jumpers, and their points in the paint came few and far between. At one point, they went on a four minute scoring draught. Red-Blue finished the quarter strong, but they were equaled by a couple of threes from Mo Pete and Eric Maynor.
The fourth quarter was mostly a coda. Backups were in for both teams, and CSKA made a run at the lead, but to no avail. Siskauskas had a big quarter for CSKA by going to the line a lot, Sokolov continued his great game in the paint, and Smodas got the team to within 6 points near the end. The Thunder's scoring was all over the place, but Morris Peterson hit a couple nice jumpers, Elijah Milsap finally got his first field goal, and Tweety Carter hit a couple nice looking jumpers near the end. And that was all she wrote for the horses. (All three nicknames of CSKA Moscow according to Wikipedia have been successfully worked in. Mission Accomplished.)
It was nice to see the Thunder win, but was this win really legitimate? Well, yes and no. Yes in that the Thunder beat the team easily, but no in many other ways. CSKA Moscow didn't play their best player in Viktor Khryapa, and possibly their second best player in J.R. Holden. They were also plagued by problems stemming from the transition to an NBA game, like being called for 3 in the Key five times and having trouble shooting beyond the farther three point line. So, if this were a game that counted for something, I have a feeling CSKA would have had a better chance at winning, especially if they were playing at home and under their rules. I'm not trying to undermine what the Thunder did here. They did exactly what they needed to do. Rather, I'm trying to say that you didn't see the full potential of this championship CSKA Moscow team tonight, so don't go home saying they suck.
But in all seriousness, it was fantastic to have such a prestigious European team come to Oklahoma City and take on the Thunder. We didn't get to see the best of both sides, but hey, a man can dream for a joint Euroleague-NBA someday. And how often do you get to see the Russian National Anthem in the Ford Center? That's definitely something I never thought would happen. It kind of felt like the World Cup....except with 70,000 less fans.
That's about all I've got, so it's time to hand out the awards....
Thunder Wonder: Serge I-BLOCK-A (Okay, I know it's unoriginal. But it's apt!) 15 Points, 6 Rebounds, 6 Blocks, 1 Assist, 1 Steal.
Thunder Down Under: James Harden, 6 Points, 5 Rebounds, 5 Assists, 5 Steals.
Thunder Blunder: Kevin Durant, 20 Points, 7 Turnovers.
Thunder Plunderer: Dmitry Sokolov, 18 Points, 5 Rebounds, 2 Blocks.
Next Game: At the San Antonio Spurs, Monday, October 18th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.