With Kevin Durant being rested tonight, the Oklahoma City Thunder visited the US Airways Center in a game where the Phoenix Suns held out Goran Dragic due to an ankle injury. The result was a low scoring game that the Suns won, 88-76.
This was an ugly game in which both teams struggled shooting or taking care of the ball, with a combined 38.4% field goal percentage and each team recording 19 turnovers. Through stronger play on both ends, the Suns were able to maintain a lead for most of the game. After OKC tied the game 3:33 left to go in the first quarter on a Reggie Jackson score, the Thunder fell behind and were never able to catch up. For most of the game, they were down by at least 5 points and were even behind by 21 points at a point in the fourth quarter.
Without both of their shot-creators in Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder turned to Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Serge Ibaka. Jackson lead the Thunder in scoring with 18 points on 7-17 shooting, but Ibaka put in an underwhelming 11 points while Lamb shot 4-11 from the field and 5-9 from the free throw line for just 13 points. There was more off-ball movement than in most nights, including generous use of horns sets and post-ups. However, this was accompanied by players generally being forced to do much more than they were used to, and it showed as this team never looked comfortable on offense.
For the Suns, they were led in scoring by the combination of Eric Bledsoe and Gerald Green, with both players scoring 15. Green was cash from behind the three-point line, making three of his four attempts, while Bledsoe got to the rim with relative ease against Jackson.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
I didn't have high hopes with both Durant and Westbrook sitting out, although I was hoping we could at least challenge the lowly Suns without Dragic. Obviously, it didn't work out for us.
The main positive to pull from this game is Steven Adams' performance. Once again, the rookie looked great. In Adams' 26 minutes on the court, he recorded 10 points on 4-6 shooting and 8 rebounds. He was actively pursuing loose balls and even showing the scoring touch with multiple offensive put-backs. For a player that many expected to be a D-League regular, it's encouraging to see him play so well even against the preseason roster of the Suns.
Another encouraging sign was the Thunder's playcalling. Without Westbrook and Durant, there was much more motion off of the ball. Most of the sets were pretty basic, including simple pass-and-screen horns sets or dribble hand-offs, but it was refreshing to see a Thunder lineup that had multiple moving parts instead of the isolations we typically get with the stars. The shots didn't go in and players didn't look totally comfortable, but that ability to function on their own was still a generally good thing to see from the role players.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder lost?
In the end, it was a dearth of talent. Nobody could score the ball consistently, and there was nobody applying pressure to the defense the way Durant or Westbrook usually do. The Suns shot poorly themselves, but the Thunder couldn't make them pay for it.
The 2-19 shooting from three is a huge concern. Reggie Jackson and Perry Jones were the only players to make a three, and that lack of perimeter shooting made it very difficult to catch up. Additionally, the defense was free to just collapse in on dribble penetration. There were probably more midrange jumpers taken than ideal, and this circles back to nobody being able to score the ball consistently as those long twos are the worst shots to take.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
It'd be nice to use combined field goal percentage to represent how bad this game was on both sides, but I already pointed that out so let's take a look at something else: the Suns' number of field goal attempts compared to the Thunder. The Suns had 94 shots in the game, compared to just 78 for the Thunder. That disparity is huge, and in a game where both teams shot poorly, whoever gets more attempts to make shots matters even more.
While both teams had 19 turnovers, the Suns held a noticeable advantage of 18 offensive rebounds compared to the Thunder's 10. Remarkably, every single one of the Suns players that played had at least one offensive rebound, with Shannon Brown recording two and both Channing Frye and Markieff Morris having three.
The Thunder had more trips to the foul line (24 to 16), which would've offset the difference in field goal attempts some, but they made just 14 of their 24 free throws (58.3%) and couldn't make the Suns pay.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
At least there won't be many games where we play without both Durant and Westbrook, so there shouldn't be too many games like these. That said, in the early portion of the season where Westbrook will be out, the Thunder will look awful when Durant's taking a breather on the bench and they have to play without him. There was nice off-ball movement and the optimist would say that Thunder players can establish a comfort level playing on their own, but when none of those players have ever showed the ability to be go-to options for even brief moments, there is a legitimate concern there.
Another concern is, again, three-point shooting. This has been a theme for the Thunder through the entire preseason, shooting just 29-97 of their threes (29.9%) prior to tonight's 2-19 clunker. Three-point shooting could actually be a legitimate concern for the Thunder, with just two guys (Sefolosha and Durant) that shot over league average on three-pointers last season. We've been hoping that Lamb could help with that void, but it's looking like the Thunder may have to turn to free agency.
At least Steven Adams may be good enough to keep out of the D-League?
Thunder Wonder: Reggie Jackson, 18 points (7-17 shooting), 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal
Thunder Down Under: Steven Adams, 10 points (4-6 shooting), 8 rebounds (five offensive), 1 block
Thunder Blunder: Thabo Sefolosha, 2 points (1-9 shooting), 4 rebounds, 1 steal
Thunder Plunderer: Eric Bledsoe, 15 points (6-16 shooting), 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals
Next game: Wednesday, October 23rd @ 8:30PM CDT
More from Welcome to Loud City:
- Annual NBA General Managers Survey: Where Do The Oklahoma City Thunder Stand?
- 2013-14 Oklahoma City Thunder Player Previews: Russell Westbrook
- WTLC Daily Loud Links: October 22nd, 2013
- 2013-14 Season Look Ahead: Hasheem Thabeet suspended for head butt to New Orleans Pelicans' Greg Stiemsma
- 2013-14 Thunder season report: Russell Westbrook returned to practice on Monday