The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Philadelphia 76ers today in Manchester, England by the score of 103-99. The Thunder are now 2-0 in their pre-season and their growth as a team without an injured Russell Westbrook continues apace.
Kevin Durant finished the game with 21 points, 12 assists, 8 rebounds, and 4 turnovers in 33 minutes of play. Durant continued to show a rounded and refined game, and against the smaller 76ers his size is becoming all the more striking. Durant's height, now combined with his increased muscle tone in his upper body, makes him look and play substantially larger than most other guys on the court.
Durant's new running mate, Reggie Jackson, took a huge step forward in his evolution as a scoring guard by posting a Westbrook-worthy stat line of 29 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds against only a single turnover. Furthermore, Jackson looked much more comfortable playing along side Durant, as Durant frequently looked for Jackson in prime scoring opportunities. Jackson complied by shooting 10-17 from the floor and 8-8 from the free throw stripe.
The game as a whole was a bit uneven as we should anticipate in a pre-season game, but what should be recorded as the best sequence of the game for the Thunder came for the duration of the 3rd quarter. On a superficial level, they entered the quarter down 3 and ended it up by 9, which is a fine achievement in and of itself, even against a rebuilding team like the Sixers. What was most striking was the way in which OKC got their engines revving and put up 35 points in the quarter. The Thunder played fast, aggressive, and in a way that both Durant and Jackson were able to get a number of easy open looks from the floor.
What facilitated the quarter the most was how Durant has continued to get quicker, stronger, and more certain of his ball handling skills. While he still tends to over-dribble a bit, he's starting to really scan the floor effectively and spot open shooters. Jackson was his main target, and Jackson did a great job using the pump fake to free himself up for easy 15 foot jumpers, a shot where he looks extremely comfortable now.
Perhaps I'm over-stating this a bit, but to me one of the hidden facets of this successful quarter was the fact that Steven Adams was on the court for most of it. What Adams allowed the Thunder to do is play small-ball without actually being small. Adams is a true center with height and muscle, and yet he moves deftly like a power forward. Even though Adams' stat line was a pedestrian 6 points and 4 rebounds, his presence on the court made him a +11 for the game. He simply enabled the Thunder to play at a very fast pace, faster than we see with Kendrick Perkins, and yet lose little in terms of actual size, defense, and rebounding.
Here are a few more observations:
- Serge Ibaka looked a lot better with his shot this time out. He is shooting the mid-range jumper with a lot of confidence and effectively uses a strong jab-step to give him enough space. I do wonder what he'll do though when the defender tries to close out aggressively; can Serge put the ball on the floor and finish?
- Jeremy Lamb really struggled this time out. He finished with only 7 points on 2-12 shooting, including 0-8 from 3-point range. I like his assertiveness, but the problem once again was that he only earned 2 trips to the free throw line (the third was from an illegal defense). Lamb must learn to produce the easy points as his shot comes around.
- I'm about to say something nice about Derek Fisher. For all the guff I give him on a regular basis, he is still far more purposeful and organized than what we saw out of this game's backup PG's. Diante Garrett is an active player and Reggie Jackson is learning the ropes, but when they were solely running the 2nd unit, it was tough to watch. Fisher does bring balance to the unit, even with his shortcomings considered.
- Perry Jones III was more energized this time out, but I feel like he'd do better to simply focus on his defense and rebounding for the time being. His offense simply isn't there, so perhaps if he just focused on one particular skill like rebounding, he'd begin to find some confidence in the rotation.
- The Thunder's 3-point game is still abysmal. The team shot 6-27 on the night, with most of those looks improvised. Very few of them looked like they came out of natural sets, and Jackson and Lamb combined to shoot 1-14. What made it even more glaring was that this was the one area where the rebuilding Sixers outplayed OKC, shooting 12-30. With all of OKC's offensive talent, a rebuilding non-playoff team still looked better from beyond the arc.
More to follow in the near future. The Thunder play again in a home game against the Denver Nuggets on October 15th.