What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook sitting out tonight's contest against the notoriously defensively tough Chicago Bulls, I'm sure many expected the Thunder to suffer a blowout in Chicago. For the first half, that seemed like the natural destination. The Bulls held the Thunder to 22 and 18 points in the 1st and 2nd quarters, respectively, and took an 11 point lead into the half.
However, the Thunder backups, led by James Harden, really came to fight in the 2nd half. With Westbrook out, the primary offensive duties fell on Harden's shoulders and he utilized Serge Ibaka as the primary scorer. Ibaka again had a very good offensive game, scoring a game-high 24 points on the night off of 10-17 shooting. Harden led all assist men in the game,tallying 7 on the night. Chipping away in the 3rd, the Thunder moved within striking distance in the 4th. Had a few plays gone their way, OKC might have shocked everyone by winning a tough preseason game on the road.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder lost?
Durant and Westbrook aside, the Bulls just had a little bit more to give in a few key areas. Specifically, the Thunder only shot 39% from the floor for the game, and the Bulls were able to work their way to the free throw line an additional 10 times on the night. In a 5 point final difference, those two factors spelled defeat.
That said, even though the Thunder lost there was still a lot to like with how they ended the game. With under a minute to play, the Thunder kept competing and got some key plays from rookie Perry Jones III. One thing that I really like from PJIII so far is that he is adept at moving without the ball. Jones finished with 14 points on the night, but 10 of those came in the 4th quarter alone, when the game was on the line. PJIII was producing when his team needed offense, and that is a terrific attribute to possess.It is going to take some time for his teammates to get used to finding him, but when they realize Jones' tendencies, he's going to end up with a lot of open looks at the rim. Things are looking very good for the Durant-backup situation.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
I don't want to come across too harshly lest I seem like a naysayer, but James Harden did not play up to his normal level on offense. Yes he did a good job at running the offense and got plenty of assists while only committing a single turnover, but Harden only managed 13 points on 2-17 shooting on the night, including 0-4 from long range.
For as much as we love Harden and as much as he is valued across the league, games like tonight really clarify what his capabilities are. Harden is a fine player who has some limitations in his ability to carry a team on his own. That however is what makes him so valuable to the Thunder, because he doesn't have to be Mr. everything. He can play off of Durant and Westbrook and interweave his highly adaptable game to whatever they're doing. On his own however, Harden showed tonight that he needs some help.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
I honestly think there are more positives than negatives to take away from this game. OKC was without approximately 42 points of offense, and yet it was a 3 point game with under a minute to play. The team played hard, they did not get crushed on the boards, and they got a strong showing from their rookie.
On top of that, Eric Maynor hit 3-4 from 3-point range, Reggie Jackson did well as the backup PG, and Hasheem Thabeet was the Thunder's top rebounder with 10 rebounds in 26 minutes, half of which were offensive.
Thunder Wonder: Serge Ibaka, 24 points, 8 rebounds, 1 steal, 2 blocks
Thunder Down Under: Perry Jones III, 14 points, 4 rebounds
Thunder Blunder: Kendrick Perkins, only scored 4 points and had zero rebounds in 22 minutes
Thunder Plunderer: Carlos Boozer, 24 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals
Next game: vs Dallas Mavericks, Wed. Oct 24 at 7PM CDT