What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
The preseason has to start somewhere, right?
In this preseason opener, we were treated to a first quarter where Russell Westbrook seemed to pick up from where he left off in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. That was fun. Kevin Durant resumed where he left off in the Olympics, mostly playing spot-up shooter in taking only 10 shots on the night, 4 of which were 3-pointers. More impressively, the pair continue to show that they are learning each other's tendencies and strengths and are better able to play to each other's abilities. That's the good stuff.
The bad stuff is that the chronic issues that have plagued the Thunder, at least in the beginnings of the last two seasons, is still readily apparent. They are not aggressive in playing fundamental box-out defense and they take way too many 3-point shots. They were outrebounded by 11 on the night and shot a paltry 7-24 from the 3-point stripe.
What was, overall, the main reason the Thunder lost?
Winning and losing really isn't the critical factor in these preseason games, since Durant and Westbrook only played for 20 and 16 minutes, respectively. In a two point loss they certainly could have played more and probably pulled out the win, but that is not what the preseason is about.
The preseason is about looking at the secondary parts of the team and trying to figure out what works and what does not. Specifically, with Kendrick Perkins out for the entire preseason, Scott Brooks has to take a look at what he has in his backup centers. Cole Aldrich got the start and played the majority of the game, logging 33 minutes total. His backup, Hasheem Thabeet, earned just over 14 minutes of floor time himself.
How did the pair do?
Aldrich grabbed 11 rebounds (4 offensive) and scored 10 points on 5-7 shooting. Thabeet scored 10 points of his own on 5-6 shooting and grabbed 6 boards himself. That's the upside. The downside is that the Thunder interior was almost as porous as the Rockets' was, giving up a whopping 21 offensive rebounds to the Rockets players. Houston is not a great shooting team, yet they were able to score in bunches because the OKC big men were often confused and missed opportunities to grab key defensive rebounds. Also, the duo managed to commit 11 fouls between them.
The upside is that their play inspires hope that if and when they do get their minutes, the offense may not drop significantly, but the downside is that if they cannot protect the post, then neither will the other team's.
What is a key statistic to understanding tonight's game?
Aside from the bigs' play, there are two things worth noting:
1) Eric Maynor is back, and how sweet it is to see him back on the floor.
Maynor wasn't great in his debut after losing most of last season to a torn ACL, but his presence was definitely felt. He only managed to shoot 3-10 for 7 points, but he handed out 4 assists in setting up his teammates. Maynor simply has a way of controlling the offense that calms everybody down. Whereas in last season when then-rookie Reggie Jackson often looked lost and uncertain, Maynor knows exactly where he needs to go with the ball and was working back into form to develop great chemistry with James Harden and Nick Collison.
2) James Harden either thinks he's still in the Finals, or we might have to begin preparing for an early season slump like Westbrook had last year when his contract was still up in the air.
Or I'm just over-reacting.
Even so, Harden did not get off to a great start in this preseason. He only shot 3-11 from the floor for 9 points and committed 3 turnovers in the process. What we saw from Harden in this Rockets loss could be one of two things. Either he was trying to play too aggressively and faltered, or he was not quite engaged with his normal two-man game that he likes to play. The difference is that when Harden tries the one-on-one stuff, he's not really playing to his strengths. He needs to be working with other players, finding the seams, and making good decisions. We'll definitely look for better decision-making on Friday.
What does this game mean for the Thunder today and moving forward?
We'll continue to watch the Thunder backup bigs as they work to see who is going to be the de facto 2nd stringer. The job is Cole's and he should likely keep it; he certainly didn't do much to lose his foothold. He was active, ran the floor, and was their best rebounder. Thabeet however showed some energy and activeness as well, so it could potentially be a competition.
Otherwise, we shall keep a close eye on how the bench overall plays together as Maynor leads his gang back into the upper ranks of the best 2nd units in the league.
Next Game: Friday Oct. 12 at the Utah Jazz, 8:00 PM Central Standard Time